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.

Read more: Eight great Hull pubs lost in recent years – and what they are now

“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.”

Dean added: “Like everyone else, we have been worried about the utility bills but we were lucky enough to sign up to a deal which means it doesn’t affect us as much as some other businesses. For us, it is just about keeping it open.”

Dean accepts the Ship is not going to be full every night and there are not a large number of regulars to keep business ticking over. But the venue is proving popular for functions.

“What is keeping us going really are the functions, such as funerals and celebrations” he explained. “That often comes from the families of regulars from the past. It is good to see they still remember us.

“There are times when you think ‘we need to make £500 this week, but where will it come from?’ Then someone books in a function and we get £1,000, which is a big relief. We also have some regulars from the Whalebone coming in now and we get people on their way to Spiders on a Saturday dropping in too.

“But I believes there should be more help for pubs like this and more protection. Hospitality is one of the biggest employers in the country and equally so in Hull and I feel they need more assistance.”

‘It would flood when they launched a ship’

Dean explained how the Ship In was once a central part of life in this area of Hull.

“I remember when I worked behind the bar here 30 years ago, it was very popular at lunchtime with all the workers,” he said. “When I arrived at 11.45am, the landlord would tell me to pour 10 pints of bitter and he would pull 10 pints of bitter as we prepared for the lunchtime workers. Workers from different business would come in at different times, which meant we were busy all day.

“We had some real characters. There was one guy who was huge and ex-CID. He would come in and run his loan-shark business from here. He would also place bets for people and then take a slice of the winnings as payment.

“We also had people coming in and selling all sorts. Needlers was close by and people would come in selling sweets. That was all just the norm.

“The pub has been here for around 200 years. The dry dock used to be very close by. Whenever they launched a new ship Hodgson Street used to flood with water. That’s why the pub has its name.”

‘Like the Rover’s Return’

“Much of that industry has died off now but we want this to continue as a traditional boozer,” Dean said. “The pub reminds me of the Rovers Return. We have real characters and it is really friendly.”

Stuart, one of the regulars, has been coming to the Ship in for more than 30 years, since he was 15. He said: “I used to live across the street so it was my local. I live in Longhill now but I still pop down here.

“I knew a lot of people in here although, sadly, many of them have passed away now. What I like is that you come in here and you don’t have to watch your back. Everyone is friendly.”

The Ship Inn is open Monday-Thursday, 5pm until late, Fridays and Saturdays, from 12pm until late and Sundays from 10am until late.