An impressive 1950s cruise ship has been docked for more than 40 years in a North Wales estuary.
The Duke of Lancaster began life as a passenger ferry and cruise liner in 1956, with its passengers treated to silver service as they travelled the seas from Ireland, Scotland and Europe.
During the 1950s and 1960s, its first-class quarters were branded “the best around”, according to a website dedicated to the ship, reports Wales Online.
However, when the huge ship took its final trip in 1978 it was sold to a Liverpool-based company who wanted to re-use it as a dry docked attraction.
In the years since then it has stood empty, frozen in time. It is still the same inside, the bar, the restaurant, the cafeterias – everything exactly as it was. But now, decades later, it is preparing for a new lease of life with grand plans to restore it to its former glory.
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In 1979 the Duke of Lancaster was beached at Llanerch-y-Mor in Flintshire and turned into a floating leisure and retail complex called The Fun Ship.
Flyers were printed and there were grand plans for a hotel conversion and various attractions.
But the dream was short lived and never came into full fruition.
The owners of the ship walked away following alleged long-standing legal disputes with the local council and by the mid-1980s, the ship had closed.
One of the plans for The Fun Ship was an amusements arcade covering an entire deck.
So when it closed over 50 arcade machines “from the golden era” were sealed shut inside the ship.
The ship’s owner, John Rowley, spent around 30 years trying to start a project that could restore the ship to serve the community and attract tourists.
Sadly, it never happened, and in 2012, Mr Rowley allowed several street artists to leave their stamp on the ship.
However, more recently things have been looking up for the iconic landmark. John’s son, Antony Rowley, said after decades of trying, they had finally gotten an events project off the ground.
In early September 2021, a variety fun day was held at the quay just outside the ship – but there are a lot more events to come. The aim is to raise money that will go towards renovating the ship for it to eventually reopen to the public.
Antony, who grew up on the ship, said: “A few weeks ago we had Covent Garden street performers, live wrestling, bouncy castles and stalls. We also have a beach bar there that we built which is permanently there. One of the original lifeboats is being used as a beer bar so people can sit in there and have a beer next to the bar.
“On December 12, we’re holding a Christmas market on the Quay. There will be all local businesses and street food stalls and we should have one of the local schools doing a carol service. We’re slowly starting to do more and more.
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Antony said their first aim is to re-open the top decks into a working bar so the public can enjoy a drink while taking in the beautiful scenery. It is hoped it will be complete within the next 12 months.
“All the money we earn from the events goes into restoration of the ship,” Antony said. “The area has been closed for 30 years because we had disputes over the access of the ship which has now all been rectified. That’s why we’ve held the first event and now we’re going to start doing more events and everything we do will go into restoration.
“The main goal next would be to open up the top decks with a bar and then we will slowly work our way down.”
He said the rest of the ship would take a lot longer to restore, however, with regular events hopefully being planned throughout next year, the future looks bright.
“We have lots of other people who want to do other events here as well,” he said. “There are people who want to have weddings here.
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They can use the bar, the pier, they can put a marquee up or have the wedding here.
“Any event is possible as of next year. We’ve just done these two this year to prove events are viable on this site.”
Antony said that although they are restoring the ship’s interior to make it fit for purpose, they will be sure to keep its original features for an authentic experience.
He said: “It’s been docked here since 1979 and it’s still the same inside, the bar, the restaurant, the cafeterias – everything is still exactly as it was. We’re keeping the original features when we restore it.”
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For Antony, it’s not just nostalgia that drives him to restore the ship into something that can be enjoyed once again. He said it gave him joy to give something back to the community, to create something that locals and tourists alike can enjoy and benefit from.
“The area needs it,” he said. “There’s nothing in the area, it needs a tourist attraction. We’re trying to do everything we can for the local community by bringing more tourists back into the area so everyone can do well out of it.
“We already get tourists who come down to walk on the coastal path just to have a look at the ship, but with the site being open, it will attract thousands.
“There’s a Duke of Lancaster appreciation society that has around three-and-a-half thousand members, among others, and they’re all wanting something to happen here.
All the local businesses and local people want something to happen on this site. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been sat here for so many years empty and we’ve not been able to do anything and now we can finally start doing something.”