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MV Royal Iris

Cabin of the Royal Iris
on 6th August 1956 ©Trinity Mirror
The MV Royal Iris, was built as a twin screw, diesel-electric, former Mersey Ferry. The vessel was built by William Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton (Yard No. 1448) and launched in December 1950, costing £256,000. Her engines were produced by Ruston & Hornsby Metropolitan-Vickers. Her weight is 1,234 gross tonnes. She is 159 feet long and 48 feet wide, with a draught of 9 feet. At least during the first decade of her life, the ship's diesel-electric propulsion made her more economical to run than the other vessels in the fleet.

Royal Iris at the Pier Head Landing stage 1974

The Royal Iris ran her trials on the Skelmorlie Mile on the River Clyde on 24 April 1951. Arriving in the River Mersey on 28 April 1951, she was initially owned and operated by Wallasey Corporation and carried the Borough coat of arms on the front of her superstructure. Upon entering service on 5 May 1951, she was licensed to carry 2,296 passengers on normal ferry duties, or 1,000 for cruising. Originally painted in a green and cream livery, the ship was distinctive in having a forward dummy funnel near her bridge and two exhaust stacks amidships, on both sides. Onboard amenities included a dancefloor and stage, tea room, buffet, cocktail bar, even a fish and chip saloon. The latter likely affording the Royal Iris the nickname "the fish and chip boat".

HMS Duke of York

On Friday 7 September 1951 the battleship HMS Duke of York was under tow on her way to being broken up at Gareloch when she collided with the Royal Iris off Gladstone Dock. The Royal Iris was temporarily out of control and the floodtide carried her against the warship. The ferry was approaching the end of a cruise organised by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Some people were hospitalised as a result of the accident. 

During the 1960s numerous acts associated with the Merseybeat scene performed on the ferry, such as The Beatles and Gerry & The Pacemakers.

During the early 1990s, funding was found to allow Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch an extensive refurbishment, which included provision for cruising duties. The ageing Royal Iris, the last ex-Wallasey vessel, was considered surplus to requirements due to the fact she had a major survey due and the great cost of bringing her up to modern standards. Over the passing years she had become noticeably slower and a lot more expensive to maintain. The Royal Iris ran a farewell evening cruise on the 12 January 1991, prior to being taken out of service and laid up awaiting confirmation of her fate.

On 21 April 1991, she was granted a one day licence from the Department of Transport to carry 600 people on a cruise to mark the 73rd Anniversary of The Zeebrugge Raid of 1918. On the 16 August 1991, she was placed in the hands of shipbrokers SC Chambers Limited of Liverpool for an asking price of £100,000. In November 1991, she was sold to a consortium for conversion into a floating nightclub, restaurant and conference centre, based in Liverpool under the name of 'Mr Smith's Nightclub'. She was delivered to the Stanley Dock complex in early 1992 to begin her new life on Merseyside and was subsequently painted Bright Blue with a red band around the top deck windows.

Royal Iris, August 1958
On Saturday, 7 August 1993, the Liverpool Echo carried front page news that the Royal Iris had been sold to Hertfordshire-based Parkway Leisure who had the intention of turning her into a floating nightspot in Cardiff, spending £300,000 on refurbishments. On Wednesday 10 August 1993, the Royal Iris was removed from Stanley Dock. In a two hour operation she broke free from her tow line and smashed into the dock wall twice. The Royal Iris finally left the River Mersey for the last time, under tow, on the morning of Thursday 12 August 1993, after being towed to the Pier Head for a final goodbye.

On Wednesday 10 August 1994, it was reported that a planning proposal regarding the use of the vessel had been rejected by Cardiff Council. No work had been carried out on the vessel in the preceding 12 months and berthing charges had not been paid. A spokesman for her new owners, Parkway Leisure, reported that they were 'open to offers'. In January 1996, it was reported that a business consortium from Liverpool were in talks to bring the Royal Iris back to the Mersey and make her seaworthy again. The consortium were considering applying for National Lottery funding and launching a £1-a-head public subscription fundraising campaign. This venture ultimately did not come to fruition.

MV Royal Iris_moored at Woolwich,_London, Sep 2011

In 2002 the vessel was towed to a berth on the River Thames near Woolwich, awaiting a possible refit as a floating nightclub. On Saturday, 6 February 2010, it was reported that Police and the RNLI had been called out to her berth on the River Thames, near Woolwich, after a passing vessel noticed she had taken on water up to her passenger deck. At the present time, it is unclear how long she has been in this state. There was evidence found to suggest that squatters had been living on board. Also found on board were various items of drug paraphernalia. She remains on the Thames to this day, now in a rather sorry state. Various campaigns have been started to return her to Liverpool, none have succeeded.

Robert F Edwards

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