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Well known Chester city centre pub set to be demolished

Ex-publican would like at least facade of the old building to be kept intact

Frank Marnell, former landlord of the Watergate Inn and chairman of Pubwatch.

A former Chester landlord whose historic pub was sold to the racecourse hopes its facade will be retained after a demolition plan was confirmed.

Frank Marnell and his wife Paula ran The Watergate Inn for 25 years, literally on the doorstep of the popular racing venue.

But in April the couple left to set up home in Connah’s Quay after selling the lease to Chester Race Company who had previously bought the building from Enterprise Inns.

Work is currently under way to revamp the Watergate Square entrance to the racecourse. And in the last few days the race company submitted a planning application to demolish the pub, which is not listed.

This comes as no surprise following speculation on social media about its uncertain future as race company chief executive Richard Thomas remained tight-lipped.

Ongoing work to reconfigure the entrance to Chester Racecourse.

Frank, who was happy to sell, would nevertheless love the pub’s facade to be kept.

Speaking before the demolition plan was confirmed, he said: “I would rather something stayed there. It’s an old building. It’s got a lot of history. I remember being contacted by an Australian man years ago with reference to his mother and father in 1900 and I sent him a photo of it and he was made up. I also sent him one of my Watergate ties.

“It’s not just The Watergate. Every pub that closes down at the moment is either going to be knocked down or made into something else. There are still people of an age who want to go into an ordinary type pub, but unfortunately there are very few of them left.”

Frank couldn’t refuse the offer to sell his lease to the racecourse as it was getting harder to make a living in a traditional-style alehouse and he was finding himself getting irritated with Chester’s ticket-happy army of traffic wardens. In addition, he was coming up for retirement at 64 and Paula was finding pub life hard while coping with health issues.

He said: “To be fair, it was a struggle. I had Amnesty International, two quiz teams, pensioners, I had retired police officers come in on a Thursday night – about half a dozen groups. So I had regular income in the winter.”

Frank Marnell with a recent copy of The Chronicle publicising a Chester Pubwatch initiative

But he added: “There was no way I could make a living without putting a lot of money into it. Over the years I had done that but I wasn’t going to do it any more.”

The straight-talking Liverpudlian, who has three grown-up children, misses some aspects of pub life but not the long hours although he's hardly putting his feet up in retirement.

“I miss talking to people. I miss that bit, that’s what I miss and being able to walk out of the pub and into the street. Now I have to get into a car to come over to Chester or get the bus.”

Even though Frank no longer has a pub he remains secretary of the Licensed Victuallers Association and chairman of Chester Pubwatch after being unanimously re-elected – as well as being an executive member of National Pubwatch in a voluntary role that covers Cheshire, North Wales, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

The Watergate Inn next to Chester racecourse.

“They said they wanted me to do it and I said OK,” explained Frank, who has been involved with the licensed trade since 1977 after leaving the RAF.

He feels for those trying to run a pub today given many people choose to stay at home drinking cheap supermarket booze plus the onerous terms laid down by the pub companies. However, he doesn’t completely rule out a return to running a pub once again.

“You never know!” says Frank. “People used to think I can make £30,000 but nowadays you’re lucky if you can make £15,000 between two people.”

Praising the bar staff who will serve the public this Christmas, he said: “Everybody thinks the bar person is there doing their job for £7.50 an hour or whatever and he or she hasn’t got any intelligence.

Frank Marnell behind the bar of The Watergate Inn when he was made president of Chester Lions several years ago.

"But you have to be a marriage guidance counsellor, a doctor when somebody is complaining about their bad back, a financial advisor – you are not getting a pint free, you have to pay for it! – and arbitrators as well disciplinarians in many ways.

"'I’m sorry boys you have had enough and that’s it, you are not getting served'. And all of that comes from one person behind the bar.”

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No matter what the future holds, Frank isn’t likely to be calling time on his community work any time soon. Aside from the pub world he’s involved with organisations including Ellesmere Port and District Lions and Westminster Park Junior Football Club.

“If somebody needs help I would like to be able to give them it,” says Frank.

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