The ferry that once took people across the Mersey has ended up with a very sad retirement, rusting away on the banks of the Thames.

This is the MV Royal Iris, and arguably the most famous, and loved of all the ferries that have crossed the Mersey over the centuries — and is the very same ship that inspired the Gerry and the Pacemakers film and song, Ferry Cross the Mersey, although not the one used in the film that the song was written for

The Royal Iris wasn’t just a “milk run” ferry going back and forth, she was floating entertainment, played host to hundreds of party cruises and bands such as The Searchers, The Beatles, Elvis Costello – and unsurprisingly, Gerry & The Pacemakers.

The Royal Iris was built in 1951 and was the first non-steam ferry to cross the Mersey, being a diesel-powered ship, and when first launched its diesel-electric propulsion made it more economical to run than the other vessels in the fleet.

Carrying a considerable near 2,300 people, the sleek forward prow made the ship instantly recognisable on the river. Originally painted in a green and cream livery, the ship was also distinctive for having a forward dummy funnel near the bridge and two exhaust stacks amidships, on both sides. Thanks to the size of the ferry, it had been fitted with a dance floor, so was a regular spot for music concerts which further cemented its popularity in the area.

She received a major refit in 1971, repainted in bright white and blue, and her popular fish and chip cafe – which earned her the name “the fish and chip boat” – was removed and replaced with a steak bar more suited to the cruises the shop now offered.

Being named the Royal Iris, she deputised for the Royal Yacht and hosted The Queen on a tour for the Silver Jubilee Mersey Review, and later hosted the short-lived children’s TV show, the Mersey Pirate.

The ferry made what was supposed to be a one-off visit to London in May 1985, as part of a publicity drive to promote Merseyside as a place to live and work – and she spent a few weeks docked next to HMS Belfast.

However, the ageing ship needed an expensive refurbishment in the 1990s, and she nearly ended up being scrapped but was sold instead.

This is however where the story gets very murky.

Sold in 1991 the intention was for her to become a floating nightclub, so she was sent to a nearby dock the next year and repainted, but it didn’t work out.

Then she was sold in 1993, to a group who planned to move her to Cardiff, to be a floating nightclub.

Her final voyage from Merseyside was a rather ignoble end though, as she left under tow, and was smashed into the dock wall twice while trying to get her to leave. Down in Cardiff, the council refused planning permission for the mooring to be used for the nightclub. The new owners were also not paying the berthing charges to store her, and no refurbishment work was being carried out.

In 1995, there was an attempt to bring her back to Liverpool, using National Lottery money to become the floating headquarters for the music charity, Merseycats, but it didn’t work out.

In 1998, the ferry made a rather desultory return to London, a far cry from the pride of the visit in the 1980s, and was towed to a berth on the Thames not far from the Thames Barrier – where she was to be converted into, you guessed it, a floating nightclub.

In 2010, she started taking on water and partially sank in the Thames, resting on the river bed. Ever since she’s been marooned here, a slowly rusting wreck with her past glories a fading memory.

Getting up close to the ferry today requires permission from security as the berth is on private land, and walking up towards her is a very sad affair. Listing sideways in the water, its clear how two decades of neglect have taken their toll.

Rust is dripping down the front while pealing paintwork reminds us of a lost glamour when celebrities would perform on her decks.

Startled by an unexpected visitor, the few gulls and very many pigeons who roost here took flight and swirled around for a minute or so before returning to their favourite perches – the flapping of the wings and occasional cry from the gulls adding to the melancholy atmosphere.

There have been attempts to try and raise the money to salvage the ferry and return her back to the Mersey, but as the years go on, the costs keep getting ever higher, and it’s now highly unlikely that the Royal Iris will ever see her home again.

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23 comments
  1. Marie Dean says:

    Omg, we had great times on the Royal Iris, so sad seeing her like this

  2. Catherine Sartorius says:

    Why Can’t She Be Refitted And Repaired And Repainted, Then Have Her Brought Back Home To My Hometown Of Liverpool, Merseyside, Where She Belongs. She Looks A Sorry Sight Right Now. Or Maybe Hire Volunteers To Get Her Back To How She Was. Many People Would Be Delighted To See Her Back Home Once Again. Now That Would Be A Surprise. I Actually Thought Or Hoped That This Article Was Going To Mention Something Positive. Like Something Was In The Pipeline For The Royal Iris!!!??? 😢

  3. Catherine Sartorius says:

    And Including Me. I Would Be Well And Truly Delighted. As The Royal Iris Was Very Popular In Her Time. And No Doubt She Would Be, Once Again. 🤔😡

  4. Catherine Sartorius says:

    I Even Contacted My Local Area Councillor Last Year Regarding Saving The Royal Iris. And She Got In Touch With Someone Else. But They Didn’t Hold Out Much Hope. I Still Have Those Emails. As I Have Just Checked. It’s Really Sad That The Royal Iris Has Been Left This Way. And That Nothing Can Be Done. Isn’t There Any Hope. Me, I’m Really Disappointed. To Be Honest. Imagine It Could Once Again Attract Tourists. They Can Manage To Refit Other Ferries, But Why Not The Royal Iris. She Could Be Beautiful Once More. From A Upset Scouser. 😢😡

  5. Bed Acker says:

    Scrap it and be done with it, let it Rest in peace. Otherwise it will just give whingeing Liverpudlians more stuff to whinge about

  6. Tony Barton says:

    Get over yourself GED you dont no what she is to liverpool the fun times we had on her am gessing if we asked every one over 40 to give 5 or 10£ we should they only have to ask .and I whould be the first to put my hand in my pocket

  7. Ann skelton says:

    So sad used to go on river cruises in the 60s bring her home xx

  8. Martin says:

    It would make a fabulous attraction as a dry dock or land based landmark. Why cnt someone use a bit of imagination and bring her back to her home. She would bring so much to the Albert Dock as a display or land based pub cafe

  9. Leslie Harris says:

    Bring it back to New Brighton-RE furbish it with general fund raising-let it rest by the existing castle-
    Make a fantastic snack bar -drinks etc

  10. Keith says:

    I would love for the iris to come home. I would give my time and any money I could afford to help restore this icon from our past.

  11. Shaun Carolan says:

    Bring back the royal iris and Moor it outside Everton new ground what a attraction paint her blue and white I’d give you a couple of hundred pound and would many other people

    • ianvisits says:

      Don’t give me the money – give it to the people already tryign to send the boat back to Liverpool – links to them are in the article.

  12. James says:

    Typo: “Ever since she’s been marooned her”

  13. Ernest Simkins says:

    It is a crying shame that such a beautiful and unique boat has been left to rot . I would be happy to contribute to any restoration projects and reckon many others would too.

  14. Gary Mckeefery says:

    It was more than just a ferry the iris was key in taking soldiers in the vital secret attack of zebrugge in 1918 thats when it was given its royal title the other mersey ferry the dafodil was part of the amazing dunkirk evacuation.
    So its more than the city of Liverpool who should care about the iris. Although i fear its many years too far gone to save

    • ianvisits says:

      It would have been difficult for this ferry, built in 1951 to have been involved in WW1 – you’re thinking of a previous ferry with the same name.

  15. I feel so sick inside to see this ferry which is so unique in many ways, Its Liverpool’s Pride and Joy, and apart of their history whoever sold her should be ashamed of themselves obviously they had no real passion for this ship Just a business head which obviously failed. I sailed on this as a child many times, across the Mersey to New Brighton as liver pudlions You should hang your heads in shame as a city if you can’t raise enough funds for its return to your city It belongs to you, not London, Just like the cutty’s ark that has been preserved This ship should be preserved for its history alone. Fight for your right and petition through your local MP To bring this ship back home where it belongs JC

  16. Paul says:

    Does anyone know the actual owners of the royal iris. Maybe to get permission to salvage some bits from it to put in the various Liverpool museums including the Liverpool Beatles Museum on Mathew street as the Beatles performed on it so it would be nice to display some more items from it. it would be a shame if it just gets scrapped.

    • ianvisits says:

      Click on the link in the article to the campaigning organisation trying to bring the boat back to Liverpool — all the details are there, and a note that the owner is not interested in selling.

  17. Douglas says:

    Never knew of the ferry being a Londoner but on reading of it and seeing how it is now it’s clear that an amazing ship, and a ship it is by the work it has done, has been so badly kept by its later owners. Even if they couldn’t get it going as a night club they should have respected it and kept it in good condition. That they haven’t and it has been left to rot, become unsafe and unhealthy should be a criminal offence of some kind. If I left a car outside my house in that condition, the council, let alone the police would be on me. Restoration now would be a total rebuild like the Cutty Sark and likely cost more than a new one. Very sad and clearly meant much to Liverpool and those who used it,

  18. Alan Tyghe says:

    What a fab project as we come out of Covid 19 to help the music industry and build communities and confidence again. A touring music and art venue ship! A night out for the NHS staff to say thank you. The Royal Iris calling at our wonderful sea ports around the British Isles – It could be done. What history echoing around her decks – Have a vision capture the breeze. Come on UK we can do it! Thanks Alan

  19. John Adcock says:

    I’m intrigued to know why the current owners are not interested to sell given that it could potentially give them a nice wedge for something which to them and maybe others a pile of scrap metal, but, true scousers of a certain age would love to stand on her deck just one more time and remember those early days of Mersey Beat and the Judy they were with at the time and would be glad to chip in to buy her back.

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