An iconic transport cafe that once served egg and chips to stars such as Richard Burton and Tom Jones as they made their way back to the Green Green Grass of home is being brought back to life after being closed for years.
Malcolm Ward is re-opening the cafe which was once an essential stopover for entertainers travelling between England and Wales in the days before the Severn Bridge and the M5.
And it wasn’t just Welsh stars heading home that called in the only cafe on the A48 between Gloucester and Chepstow.
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During the 1960s the Silver Fox was constantly busy with motorists, HGV drivers and locals hoping for a glimpse of celebrity customers such The Beatles, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
According to legend a jacket once belonging to drummer Ringo Starr was auctioned by Bonhams in London in 1993 for £220, complete with a “receipt in pocket from Silver Fox Café, Newnham-on-Severn, for egg, chips, bread, butter and tea.”.
Apparently the Beatles called into the cafe at Broadoak in the Forest of Dean several times during their career, including when they played Lydney Town Hall on August 31, 1962 just before they shot to fame and before their last ever full concert on British soil in Cardiff on December 12, 1965.
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The drummer must have liked those fry ups too much because the auction entry allegedly said the jacket “has been in the possession of the current vendor for 20 years, when Ringo Starr became too fat to fit into this jacket, and so his mother, Elsie Graves, passed it on to the son of the present owner”.
But once the Severn Bridge opened the Silver Fox was bypassed by travellers and the cafe which overlooks the River Severn finally closed in 2016 and fell into disrepair.
A local developer bought it at auction for £280,000 but plans to demolish the cafe and redevelop the site came to nothing and there have calls for the cafe to be listed to preserve its heritage.
Now former pub landlord and extra Malcolm, 61, has big plans for the site which includes a cafe, campsite and outdoor events around a 68ft, rusty canal barge.
After finding the current owner he tracked down the daughter of the original family who ran the cafe who allowed him a glimpse into her prized visitors book.
She’s not willing to part with the book which acted as autograph collection in the days before camera phones and selfies but he has written to 20 of the famous names to tell them about his plans.
“I’ve had a couple of long chats with the daughter of the people who ran it back then and they have been very interesting ” said Malcolm who moved to Westbury-on-Severn around ten years ago.
“The family actually shared the bathroom with all their customers and there were a lot of famous people coming through at the time. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Richard Burton, it seems like they have all stopped at the Silver Fox.
“Apparently Shirley Bassey had been coming in since she was a child and would return incognito to help out because she was such friends with the lady who ran it.
“It would be lovely if one of them could come along to the opening but I’m not expecting it.”
Malcolm, who fosters five youngsters between 11 and 19 with wife Mandy, says he has been very careful not to erase the famous past while restoring the cafe to modern day standards.
He has taken out a chimney breast being blamed for making the cafe cold and damp in it’s latter years and updated the menu to add healthier dishes to the fry ups that Ringo Starr enjoyed.
Malcolm intends to bring the cafe in line with today’s coffee culture, employing a young local woman who specialises in baking cakes to fill his rotating stand.
Outside is a 68ft canal boat, a nod to the nearby River Severn, will eventually be used for cream teas and a bar for open mic nights.
Land next to the Silver Fox is being turned into a campsite and eventually he hopes the speed limit on the A48 will be reduced at that point so customers can picnic on the riverbank as they did when the cafe was in it’s heyday.
Until then he is burning the midnight oil getting the cafe, named after a former silver fox farm nearby, ready for the grand re-opening in July,
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“It may seem a bit mad but I’ve always wanted a cafe,” said Malcolm.
“Every time I saw the Silver Fox I used to think it was very sad that it had closed so in the end tracked down the owner and banged on his door.
“He was a little bit shocked and surprised but he was delighted when I told him what I wanted to do with the place.”