The TSS Dover, was a stern loading, twin screw, turbine steamer built in 1965 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson of Newcastle with the yard number of 2013. The ship had the distinction of being the last steam vessel ordered by British Rail but wasn’t the last to enter service. That honour fell to her near sister, Holyhead Ferry 1 built by Hawthorn Leslie another Tyneside shipyard. When it become apparent that another sailing slot was to become available at Dover, British Rail approached Hawthorn Leslie to build a sister ship but they were unable to complete the vessel to British Rail’s deadline so the order went to the Swan Hunter yard instead. Both vessels had hatches fitted forward, these were to facilitate the loading mail by crane and to unload vehicles should the stern loading ramp be rendered unusable. The Dover also had the honour of the last vessel delivered by a British shipyard early, because of this Swan Hunter received a bonus from British Rail.
TSS Dover entered service in June 1965 and was the first vessel to appear in the new B.R. livery of a ‘monastral’ blue hull, white waterline/chocolate brown boot topping: white superstructure, pearl grey masts, ventilators and davits. The funnel was painted red with the new logo that consisted of two railway lines with crossings between them and a pale blue house flag was adopted with this logo.
The vessel arrived in Dover on the 6th June 1965. On the 13th June TSS Dover’s first voyage was a press junket to Boulogne to open the newly constructed car terminal. The following day the Dover was shown off to the press at the Pool of London, where her amenities, which brought new standards of interior decor and comfort to railway ships, were displayed to the press and travelling public.
The vessel entered service proper on the 24th June but was withdrawn from service on the 28th June as the engines had developed technical problems which resulted in a lack of power, reduced speed and vibration. The ship resumed service on the 5th July, following remedial, work between Dover and Calais.
On 9th February 1967, Dover was used to carry out ramp tests at the Central Electricity Generating Board ramp at nearby Folkestone harbour. Because of the tides, the car deck wound up some four feet below the top of the quay. In the spring of 1967, the onboard restaurant was made into a self service affair. Later that year the Dover could be found on the Newhaven to Dieppe route.
The Dover did more stints on the Newhaven - Dieppe route between October 1967 and January 1968 and again in the October of 1968. In 1969 The Dover was transferred to the Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire when the Vortigern was transferred to Dover in July. In June, Dover operated on the Preston - Boulogne route. Behind the scenes, British Rail’s Shipping & International Services Division was to adopt the brand name of Sealink and all the companies vessels would be painted in the new house colours.
From 22nd May and 19th September 1970, Dover operated between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire with some experimental sailing’s from Heysham to Dun Laoghaire, these however proved to be unprofitable and so they were stopped. On the 28th September Dover was again to be found working the Newhaven - Dieppe route, however on the 23rd October Dover collided with the West Pier and suffered propeller damage which was repaired in Southampton. On the 8th November, Dover was returned to Dover to resume her cross channel duties.
In the June of 1972, Dover was transferred to the Folkestone - Boulogne route for a passengers only service. On the 25th September Dover was back on the Newhaven - Dieppe route to relieve the vessels Vilandry and Valencay that were away for refits. On the 4th December, Dover again returned to her home port, but found herself riding out heavy seas for three days before entering the harbour. In 1973 further changes to the vessels paint work were made with the legend Sealink painted on the hull.
From June 1974 to the end of 1975 Dover operated as extra cover on the Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire route in exchange for the Holyhead 1. The change was brought about by the need to provide extra vehicle capacity at the port brought about by unexpectedly heavy bookings.
In 1976, Dover was back on the Dover - Calais route, however on the 14th June Dover collided with the Breakwater on entering Dover East whilst berthing sustaining heavy damage. On October 17th, Dover returned to Holyhead for to provide cover for the damaged Avalon.
In 1977, Dover was rebuilt at the Danish shipyard of Aalborg Verft, Aalborg, where she was converted into a drive through ferry with the addition of a bow door and other modifications. At this time the Dover was renamed the Earl Siward, and returned to Dover on the 1st July. In October, the vessel returned to service on the Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire route.
On 1st January 1979 the vessel was registered to Sealink U.K. Ltd. The recently renamed TSS Dover, resumed operations on the Irish sea route before returning to Dover. The withdrawal of the Earl Siward from Holyhead marked the end of an era, as she was the last railway owned, steam turbine vessel to operate on the Irish sea routes. On the 2nd November 1980, Earl Siward was withdrawn from service after suffering a stripped turbine blade. She returned to service on the 17th December following repairs in Dover’s Wellington Dock. On January 16th, 1981 Earl Siward began work on the Folkestone - Boulogne route but was withdrawn from service on the 28th February for eight weeks following an engine failure.
The end of Earl Siward’s tenure with Sealink was in sight, on the 14th April 1981, she made her final run on the Dover - Calais route before a two month lay up in Newhaven. Between June and July she operated on for short periods on the Newhaven - Dieppe and Weymouth - Jersey/Guernsey routes before being laid up in Newhaven again. On the 25th November 1981, Earl Siward was sold to Sol Ferries Ltd, Limassol, Cyprus and renamed the Sol Express. In 1982 she was refitted in Perama, Greece before starting on the Brindisi - Igoumenitsa - Patras route. In 1983, Sol Express suffered a major turbine failure and was laid up in Limassol before being sold on to the Quadrini Group in 1986.
On March 6th the long voyage to from Limassol to Newcastle began as the Sol Express was taken on tow to the north of England. On April 16th 1986, she arrived on Tyneside where she was converted to a floating casino/restaurant/night club and renamed the Tuxedo Royale and moored in Newcastle. In 1993 Tuxedo Royale was replaced in Newcastle by the Tuxedo Princess, formerly Caledonian Princess and moored in Middlesborough. On Teesside, she had a glittering career, however on the 20th April 2006 Tuxedo Royale was moved from Middlesborough to Hartlepool to make way for the then proposed Middlehaven development.
While Dover/Tuxedo Royale was laid up, the Tuxedo Princess was sold to a Turkish ship breaker. On 6th January 2009, Dover was moved from her location in Able Seaton to Able Central Quay at Middlesborough just below the Transporter bridge. This was to allow Able UK to move the so called US Navy ‘ghost ships’ across the basin to allow for the arrival of another decommissioned vessel, the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau. Absolute Leisure subsequently went into receivership and she currently lies moored at Able Central Quay, Middlesbrough awaiting her fate and hopefully a bright future with the Dover Steam Ship Company