Hull’s own ‘Rovers Return’ is proving backstreet pubs can survive – by bringing people together

The Ship Inn in Hodgson Street has been around for 200 years

Tucked away down a side street in an industrial area of Hull lies a pub with 200 years of history.

You could be forgiven for taking a glance and assuming it is one of many drinking establishments to fall by the wayside over the years. Landlords in pubs off the beaten track have been struggling long before the double whammy of the Covid pandemic and cost of living crisis.

Rising costs and taxes, cheap alcohol in supermarkets and social changes, which mean a pint after work is no longer the habit of working people, have ensured years of struggle. But the Ship Inn in Hodgson Street is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the passion and dedication of owners Dean Kirk and Neil Brearley.


“I have been in the pub trade for nearly 20 years and ran pubs like the Oberon and the Land of Green Ginger, but I have been out of the trade for a few years,” explained Dean, who previously worked at The Ship decades ago. “I wanted to serve real ales and keep this as a traditional pub.

“It was 34 years ago I was a barman here and now I own the pub with Neil. There have been a lot of rumours it would be knocked down and turned into a garage. But the Ship is still here.”

The Ship has had eight licensees in five years, but while there is always the temptation to try to bring an old pub into the 21st century with a modern makeover or “gastro pub” approach, Dean was determined not to go down that road.

“The pub had been closed for about three months before we took it on in April last year,” he said. “We tidied it up a bit but we have not made any drastic changes and feel it is important the Ship remains a traditional boozer. But we have a really nice beer garden at the back which is a bit of a sun trap.

“We have two real ales available at the moment, but we are bringing in four more in the next couple of weeks. We also have a good selection of Belgian beers in the fridge.

‘It’s own beating heart’

Dean added: “This pub has so much history and it has its own beating heart. It has had so many characters and I believe it needs to survive. But there are still people who come in here and say they never knew it was here.

“The trendy bars do not provide the same community spirit pubs like this do. A real boozer is about people coming together and having a chat. It is good for mental health, not the drinking, but the social aspect. It’s about coming in and being engaged.”

Dean, who is also a Hull city councillor, has a unique approach to the food offering, which helps attract customers but keeps costs down. He says each pub needs to offer something to keep customers coming in.

“We serve fish and chips on a Friday and then a full English on a Sunday morning,” he said. “People have to book in advance and, because we serve the same meal, we can keep costs and wastage down.

“I cook everything but it is easier when it is all the same food and we know how many we are catering for. Both the Friday and Sunday mornings have proved very popular, but we could not afford to bring in a full time chef to offer different meals every day.”

He added: “It is also important to keep changing the ales and offering something new. We also try and support our local microbreweries which have also been struggling.”

The pub also doesn’t open during the daytime on most week days. That also helps keep the costs down, but there is also another reason behind the decision – and one that could safeguard the pub’s immediate future.

“I have a full time job and so does Neil,” Dean said. “I came into this with a lot of sentimentality rather than with a hard-nosed business mentality. Because we both have other jobs we don’t have to worry too much about making a profit. So long as we can pay the staff and the bills, that is okay.”