PLENTY has changed since Jeanette Rodgers first moved to The Ship Inn in Shalesmoor – the bar is now on the other side, the toilets are indoors and staff no longer have to line up pre-poured pints to cope with a daily lunchtime rush of thirsty steelworkers.
Jeanette’s changed too.
Because back when she first arrived in 1962 she was just six months old and her parents Cyril and Kath Stewart had just taken over the place.
Now, 50 years on and having lived in the upstairs flat ever since, Jeanette is the landlady.
And, as she and husband Stephen celebrated her 50th birthday yesterday, the pair were also marking the 25th anniversary of taking the pub on from ma and pa.
“It’s all I’ve ever known and all I ever wanted to do,” she says. “I love it. It’s been my whole life. There’s not many people can say they’ve only lived in one place but – apart from my first six months – I’m pleased I’m one of them.”
“Do I love it as much as Jeanette does?” ponders Stephen, 53. “I’d like it more if there was some money in it.”
Cash aside, The Ship has built a formidable reputation over the decades.
It might be owned by pub company Greene King but inside it feels like the best boozers do: friendly, family-run, and with several local beers on tap. It has been named the Campaign for Real Ale’s best pub several times – most recently in November – and its prominent position in the city’s famous Valley Of Beer means it attracts drinkers from across the country.
And that success can be placed at the feet of Jeanette and Stephen.
Originally, she was the youngest of seven siblings living at the pub, including her brother and current Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart.
“There are customers who can still remember me as a babe in arms,” she says. “They tell me things about myself even I didn’t know.”
From cleaning the ashtrays as a tot, to collecting the glasses as a teen and working behind the bar, she dreamed of eventually taking the place on.
Stephen, meanwhile, would come from Southey Green to drink – “because it was a great pub”.
They met, spent seven years courting and married in 1987. A week later they took over the pub with Cyril and Kath retiring to a Chapeltown bungalow.
“It wasn’t certain we’d get it,” says Stephen. “We had to have an interview and we were young but the district manager said he’d give us the benefit of the doubt. I think we’ve proved he was right.”
Now the couple – along with daughters Stephanie, 17, and 16-year-old Katie – have celebrated the landmark anniversaries by having a special beer brewed. The Abbeydale ale is called ugetlessformurder.
“What now?” muses Jeanette. “I want to stay here for a long time yet. I love the customers and the atmosphere. It’s part of who I am.”