Epsom Coaches have operated from four main sites over the 97 years of its history, three garages within the borough of Epsom and Ewell and from the early 50’s through to 1985, we also had a garage in Great Bookham. However, space was also rented short term, to house the increasing fleet before and after the war. In addition, the travel agent arm, Epsom Travel, had shops in Epsom, Leatherhead and Banstead. An offshoot, operated with client, Friendship Tours, Tower Travel, was appropriately situated by the Tower of London.
Building For The Future
High Street Epsom
The business started operating from Wernham’s Yard to the rear of Boots the Chemist in the High Street, now the location for the Lifestyle Centre. The premises had a very narrow frontage with access to a larger plot of land to the rear. The entrance was obstructed by protruding chimneystacks, which reduced the approach to the yard. The accessibility was also made worse as the High Street was narrower in those days, and adjacent shopkeepers had to raise their shop blinds to allow vehicles into the yard. The entrance extended to about 65 feet deep, with Parr’s newsagency and Tutte’s confectionery shops on either side. Wernham’s blacksmith shop was situated behind Tuttes, and there was a ladies hairdressing saloon behind Parrs. Beyond that a brick building large enough to garage and maintain two vehicles, and a drawing board type of desk with space for a diary and telephone. Further down the yard there were sheds occupied by Boots the Chemists, and a Dutch barn type of building with corrugated asbestos sheets, backing on to the railway embankment. The horseboxes, charabancs and coaches, were parked in the barn.
Uden & Company completed the conversion of the existing buildings. On part of the wide frontage, two lock-up shops were built, one was let out to a boot and shoe repairer, and the other became a coach hire and ticket office, as well as selling cigarettes and tobacco. Although maintenance was carried out in rather austere conditions on the ground floor, Mr Richmond commissioned Udens to build a proper workshop, and stores in the roof of the original outer granary accessible by way of a spiral staircase. A pulley could hoist heavy machinery, parts and tyres through a space covered by removable floorboards when not in use. The workshop was quite spacious with a four metre long bench and room to store spare parts, reconditioned engines and a lathe.
There was always a lack of space for parking vehicles, so a barn in Heathcote Road was rented from Canon Chrystall for thirteen guineas a quarter to accommodate three 32-seater coaches from about 1933 to 1939, and again from 1948 to 1953, when they were given notice to make way for the building of the Catholic Church Hall, which has since moved to Mount Hill. Pre-war, one of the coaches was parked in a barn at the bottom of Tot Hill in Headley, and another two coaches were parked at the rear of Dorking High Street. The South Street garage had two shops in the front, and the decision was made to let both of them to Jack Garrett, a local shoe repairer. One of the shops was later demolished to make way for a larger entrance, and an additional room was rented next door giving direct access by staircase to the adjoining premises. Following this, another room was also rented to cope with the expansion. The rented offices used another entrance, which was shared by the hairdressers upstairs. Some customers would wander into the coach booking office expecting a ‘short back and sides’. Roddy Richmond built himself an office in the roof of the garage, however, due to the continual running up and down stairs it only survived two or three years. Following this, a ground floor office was constructed using the same framework, and a small flap was inserted into the wall to pass tickets through, or give an invitation to a customer to take a seat in one of the two chairs that filled the small office.
The Company acquired Ivy Cottage to the rear of the South Street garage in 1960, and an extension was built to house eight coaches. When the adjoining granary lease expired it enabled the garage to be widened yet again, and the area was used to provide better vehicle maintenance facilities. The fitters now had some warmth in the winter, albeit by paraffin blowers, rather than crowding round the Tangye stove in the open yard. At the same time the opportunity was taken to bring the upstairs workshop down to ground level in the new extension. The inner part of the upstairs workshop was also converted to provide the drivers with a rest room, a facility long overdue. Even with the new facility, the staff remained loyal to the Dorking Gate Café opposite. Until the tenancy of the granary terminated, there had been deliveries of corn and various other animal foods throughout the day. Even the increased width of the garage meant that only a few vehicles were able to turn round inside. Vehicles that were last in, had to draw up outside the shop, pull across the road and reverse into the garage, which meant stopping the traffic.
The Company was also under pressure from the local council to move out of its South Street premises to make way for the Ashley Shopping Centre. Although the South Street garage had been extended several times, the fleet was expanding and more room was needed. The South Street premises were far from ideal and coaches had to reverse into the garage off the busy main road. In 1970, the Longmead site became available and plans were drawn up for a purpose-built garage, which included workshops, paint shop, offices and flats on the one-acre site. The new building would provide the Company with first class facilities, amongst the best in the industry. The company were based at Longmead until the end in June 2017.
There no known photographs of the garage at Bookam, but many memories. The premises were acquired when Epsom Coaches took over Bookham Saloon coaches in the early fifties. There was accommodation for up to 10 coaches there and covered accommodation, where for many years steam cleaning was carried out. The site was self-contained, with its own fuel pump and the “Bookham” driving team. It was approached off the Guildford Road, via very narrow access road, between houses. For someone following a coach they must have wondered where the coach was intending to go! The site was sold to Roy Richmond in 1985 and the coaches moved to Longmead. Roy had his own house on the site for many years, along with a neighbouring home. Roy’s house, was appropriately known as “The Coach House”.
The garage officially started operation on 5th July 1971 and by that time the fleet consisted of 37 coaches ranging in size from 7 to 48 seats, and nine new vehicles were acquired that year. The fleet had a combined capacity of 1,429 seats, which was enough to carry 2 per cent of Epsom & Ewell’s population. Although telephone systems were improving, they were still fairly crude. In the South Street office, there had been a small manual switchboard; lines were identified by drop down tags denoting which ones were in use. Latterly, they used the more modern key and lamp system, and the move to Longmead saw the introduction of the first private telephone exchange, which enabled calls to easily be re-directed throughout the building.
The Company’s premises at Longmead had been subject to continual development, culminating in complete redevelopment of the 1971 buildings in 2019/10. When the garage first opened, the longest coach was 11 metres long, and there were only four of them. With the introduction of 12 metre coaches in 1973, the width of the garage started to become a problem, and in 1979 the Company had to increase the length of the 34 vehicle parking bays to accommodate them. The site next door was also acquired and new facilities were built including a two-bay bodyshop, a larger drivers rest room, new vehicle wash, an additional 13,500-gallon underground fuel tank as well as an extension to one side of the garage. Even this was to prove inadequate, as later coaches had grown to 13 metres and double deck vehicles were introduced in 2007. In 204, the adjacent heat treatment works, became available and the company purchased the site including a suitable building for conversion into a new workshop able to accommodate the larger coaches and one day, double deck vehicles. The building was converted and completely refurbished, providing four workshop bays using vehicle lifts. The original workshop was retained, but seldom used, once the engineers had become accustomed to their spacious new workshops.
Double decker’s were introduced into fleet in 2017, following the tender win to operate TfL routes 418 and 406, requiring 10 new buses. The new workshop could accommodate the buses, but the entrance and exit of the garage building was too low, as were the doors of the 1980 Bodyshop, as nobody envisaged ever running double deckers back then. With typical Epsom determination, an in house team led by Steve Whiteway, successfully installed new steel work and raised the entrance and exit to the garage. The Bodyshop beams were cut by a specialist concrete cutter, enabling the double decker’s to enter, the otherwise high enough bays. Another problem, was in accessing the vehicle wash, which was with foresight had a machine already capable of washing a double decker, but the entrance and exit to the wash bay, were too low! The concrete cutter again came to the rescue!
In 2007 a departure lounge was created in one of the 1971 workshop bays, by the in house building team, again led by Steve Whiteway. This was to accommodate the new home to holiday service, for customers to wait for their tour coach. The Departure lounge later doubled up as the company’s heritage centre and the focus for many memorable events on special occasions and each Christmas.
The garage received considerable care over the years and still was in good condition, but starting to become expensive to repair and restrictive of the growing fleet. A more dramatic solution was required! In late 2009, the company embarked on its largest single investment, with the complete redevelopment of the Longmead site. This also included a further land extension, with the acquisition of part of the field behind the existing garage, the third such expansion of the original 1971 site. Further land acquisition was unlikely, although the service road and the car park of the neighbouring Youth Centre were rented for extra staff parking and for buses overnight. The company invested over £2.2million in the redevelopment, which included demolition of the existing carriage building, the building of a new state of the art 7 bay workshop, including a replacement for the 1980 body shop, demolition of the original 1971 workshops and its replacement refurbished in 2004, to create more sparking space. The wash bay was retained, but totally enclosed, to ensure year round use. At the same time, the Departure Lounge was refurbished and a new entrance created, with glass.
With over 80 vehicles coming back each evening, the contractors cleared up each day, to allow the fleet to park overnight. It was challenging, but everyone worked together. Staff were kept informed with regular newsletters and a committee comprising representatives from all parts of the firm, were involved in over two years of planning to ensure everyone had the building they wanted.