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Great Britain - TSS Duke of Lancaster, Wales - Dec 23 | Oblivion State Urban Exploration

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Great Britain 

TSS Duke of Lancaster, Wales - Dec 23

TSS Duke of Lancaster


TSS Duke of Lancaster is a former railway steamer passenger ship that operated in Europe from 1956 to 1979, and is beached near Mostyn Docks, on the River Dee, in north Wales. She replaced an earlier 3,600-ton ship of the same name operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway company between Heysham and Belfast.


The Duke of Lancaster being built in Belfast in 1955.

Along with her sister ships the TSS Duke of Rothesay and the TSS Duke of Argyll she was amongst the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways (at that time, also a ferry operator). She was a replacement for the 1928 steamer built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway, RMS Duke of Lancaster.

Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, launched on 1 December 1955 and completed in 1956, she was designed to operate as both a passenger ferry (primarily on the Heysham to Belfast route) and as a cruise ship. In this capacity, the Duke of Lancaster travelled to the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.


From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as Duke of Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries. Rather than undertake the expensive option of renewing their entire fleet, British Railways instead began a part-programme of conversion. In order to maintain ferry services whilst these modifications took place, Duke of Lancaster's duties as a cruise ship ceased. On 25 April 1970 the ship returned to service, having had her main deck rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at her stern. The ship now provided space for 1,200 single-class passengers and 105 cars, with a total cabin accommodation for 400 passengers.

The three ships continued on the Heysham to Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975. Duke of Lancaster was then briefly employed on the Fishguard to Rosslare crossing, before becoming the regular relief vessel on the Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire service until November 1978. The ship was then laid up at Barrow-in-Furness.


The 'Fun' Ship

The 'Lancaster' arrived at her new home on 10 August 1979 and has remained there ever since, beached (actually 'concreted in') off the River Dee and in an increasingly derelict state. Her intended use as a static leisure centre and market was relatively short-lived - she was known as 'The Fun Ship' and it was possible to visit the engine room and bridge as well as the market. Plans for a 300-room hotel never appear to have got further than the preliminary planning stage however, and it was not long before the ship closed for business. There were frequent legal battles with the local councils and the owners closed the business in 2004. As a result of this the owners 'walked away.' Subsequent owners hve faced similar issues.




The Duke today.


I had never visited the Duke of Lancaster until December 2023. Despite being around now for a length of time that gets strange looks when I speak to non-urbexers, the gargantuan vessel on the coastline of North Wales had never beckoned a visit. In December, we were exploring something else and thought we'd pop by for a short walk around the perimeter, not really expecting much. Myself and Alex had joked about some fun ways we could get in, with the common knowledge of the 24/7 security onsite, the various infa-red cameras and the known nature of those protecting the ship fresh in our minds. However, when we arrived and pretty much spotted everything that we had heard about, we still fancied our chances. Despite ticking off the cameras, security cabin and security member who even came out to inspect us on the public footpath, there did seem to be a considerable weakness on the stern-side and a few moments later, we had slipped between the 180 degree camera's channels and patiently waited to see if we were to be rustled. Nothing. A few more minutes. Still nothing. Clearly, despite everything we had heard and the small amount of footage from beyond the fence, particularly inside the boat, there was a chink in the vessel's armour.

However, it still was a mammoth task to get the equipment we would need to make a revisit worthwhile, but Alex had really taken to the ship and shot me a message pricing up everything we would need the next day. Two weeks later and him and Theo were up in the local quarry abseiling off the cliffs, teaching each other how to belay and other words that I still don't really know what they mean. I'm sure a bunch of you here would watch our video and probably piss yourselves at how we are abseiling, but still, I think it's part of the comedy of it that we only really learnt how to survive a descent of the Duke's height to ensure we could get onboard. It was apparently a successful training lesson, because within a few hours, we were all driving towards North Wales, the conventional quadruple of myself, @jtza , @DustySensorPhotography and Alex. Getting the equipment beyond the successful camera channel from a couple weeks back was a challenge, so before we went to bed, we were back on the shores stumbling over the slippy, mossy rocks clutching onto bags of gear. Then, it was time for sleep.


Sunrise on the Duke.

On the morning of, we repeated the same route, ambling up to the base of the Lancaster's stern, before heading up one by one. Without any hurried guard arriving where we had been stood immediately, we figured we had avoided the camera's glare and began hunting for a way in. As the sun was peaking over the horizon and the waves crashing towards the boat, the low, purple lighting made it feel as if we were at seas, perhaps enhanced by our tipsy behaviour, having had a few drinks at the BNB and getting three hours kip. The boat is surprisingly sealed onboard, even inside too, however after a lengthy search of the entire deck, we had found a fair few entrances. For the next hour, I became the worm, in and out in and out in and out bringing back memories of dusty sensor mother, until finally, as the sun cast an orange glow across the Welsh peninsula, one of the gaps wasn't internally locked. We were inside.


The damaged deck later on in the day.


Back in the day.





The interior was pretty incredible in my opinion, perfectly preserved in most rooms, hardly changed since 2004. The biggest differences was the arcade, which lost hundreds of retro machines in 2012 to collectors and the ground floor, which had become a storage place for the owners, I would imagine.








Games room.




Staff bedroom.

To be continued.


OS Full member
OS Full member
Mar 4, 2018
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The natural light entering this room was especially stunning. Not a bad place for a Picnic!






Cinema room.



Pool room. No tables remained... in this area at least.



Sea View cafeteria.



Check out these prices!






Bar. For me, this looked to be kept as the original first class suite from when the Lancaster was a cruise ship throughout the 50s and 60s, so Fun Ship visitors could experience the life of a cruise from that era. Pretty cool what high security, and a 10m height can do for a place.





The Dolphin Restaurant. Another fascinating time capsule. Its worth noting that there was a couple more of these rooms inside the massive ship, but they were internally locked.



Back on the deck, it was time to put our training into practice. Assembling each other in tight harnesses that really opened my eyes to the guys in a different light, we were soon depositing Oli off the side. Watching his blessed little face light up in fear as he realised he wasn't attached was one of the purest things I've ever seen. Soon, I was down and we left Alex and Theo onboard, heading off. The plan was to retrieve the drone and get a shot of the other two descending off the Duke, however, with the constant warning of high security, we probably should have played it safe. When we returned an hour later, noting that it was too windy to fly the drone anyway, which really made the whole ordeal pointless, we watched in horror as the security guard wandered around the ship to also see in horror someone abseiling off the top! The rest really went exactly as we expected, but thankfully, everyone was off the ship safely, at least from an abseiling accident. On the ground, myself and Oli watched a lengthy discussion and a lot of rope pulling from both sides, which was all captured on the GoPro gratefully. It was interesting to watch back a couple hours later to see that the security and 'unknown man' were about as angry and aggressive as anticipated, asking Alex so many times whether he had a car that I almost wanted to drive back to the ship to present him with the £200 MOT failing in one week's time Fiat Punto we had used, so he could have his fun with it. All in all, leaving the Duke of Lancaster with memory cards full of photographs and one of our favourite videos we have ever done was enough to put the horror show at the end out of our minds. Full props to Alex who masterminded this by the way, he is about as unknown as it gets, but has done absolutely everything we have. Maybe, one day, he will put some reports up.

Here is our video we made at the Duke. It's a long one, so strap in tight if you hate videos, maybe just skip to the exciting bit at the end :)


Thanks for reading!


Staff member
Dec 16, 2013
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Nicely done guys. No mean feat getting on there and not conquered by many.