The cruise ship that became blank canvas for Bristol graffiti artists after being frozen in time

A 1950s cruise ship that became a blank canvas for Bristol graffiti artists after been docked on the banks of a Welsh estuary for decades could be be brought back to life.

The Duke of Lancaster began its 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.

But despite boasting its first-class quarters were “the best around”, it was made its final trip in 1978 after being bought as a dry-docked attraction by Liverpool based company.

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Dreams to turn it into a floating leisure and retail complex never came to fruition and the once magnificent ship has remained beached at Llanerch-y-Mor in north Wales since 1979.

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 but gave up in 2012 when he gave permission for an art collective called DuDug to paint it.

Bristol artists became involved with the project and the huge metal exterior became covered in works of art which highlighted the plight of the metal hulk that was once marketed as the Fun Ship.

Bristol based Bungle painted the "Face of Authority"
Bristol based Bungle painted the “Face of Authority”
(Image: Image: Hadyn Iball/Trinity Mirror)

Bristol-based Bungle painted the “Face of Authority” on the side of the ship and said at the time that it was the biggest challenge he had ever taken on,

Snub23 painted a blue futuristic robot figure which appeared to be breaking out from the inside of the ship.

He said the ship trapped in the Dee estuary was the perfect based for his massive metal character and added: ” This rusted wreck has an apocalyptic feel to it.”

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Yet inside the bar, the restaurant, the cafeterias and everything else remained frozen in the time and looked the same as the days it ferried passengers around Europe.

It even had 50 arcade machines “from the golden era” sealed shut inside the ship.

Now, decades later, John’s son, Antony Rowley, has grand plans to restore it to its former glory and says an events project is finally off the ground.

The Duke of Lancaster (Fun Ship) at Llanerch-Y-Mor near Mostyn in Flintshire
The Duke of Lancaster (Fun Ship) at Llanerch-Y-Mor near Mostyn in Flintshire
(Image: Ian Cooper/North Wales Live)

In early September 2021, a variety fun day was held at the quay just outside the ship to raise money that will go towards renovating the ship so it can be reopened to the public.

Antony, who grew up on the ship, told WalesOnline 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

“The area has been closed for 30 years because we had disputes over the access of the ship which has now all been rectified,” he said.

“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.”

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 did not mention what will happen to the graffiti art but 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.”

The first two events were to prove the site is viable and on December 12 there will be a Christmas market on the Quay.

“We have lots of other people who want to do other events here as well,” he said.

Another work of art on the ship said to represent those who were stopping the Fun Ship plans
Another work of art on the ship said to represent those who were stopping the Fun Ship plans (Image: Hadyn Iball/Trinity Mirror)
(Image: (Image: Hadyn Iball/Trinity Mirror))

“There are people who want to have weddings here. 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.

“The area needs it. “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.”

The Duke of Lancaster Ship Appreciation Society unveil banner during bitter dispute
The Duke of Lancaster Ship Appreciation Society unveil banner during bitter dispute
(Image: Daily Post Wales)

The Duke of Lancaster appreciation society has around three-and-a-half thousand members and the local community wants something to happen, he said.

He said: ” 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.”

For information and interest in events, contact: thefunshipnorthwales@gmail.com

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