Building For The Future
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1933, as the High was due to be widened, the company moved to the south of Epsom, to Trower’s granary opposite Mount Hill in South Street, and sub let part of the granary yard to Alf and Ralph Scragg, who were corn merchants supplying fodder to most of the racing establishments in the district.
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.