Epsom Coaches – a history of service and innovation
The Company was founded by Herbert Roderick Richmond and Jim Reeves in 1920 forming the partnership of Richmond and Reeves. The business was based in Epsom town centre and grew very rapidly by providing open-topped coaches known as charabancs and horse transport for the famous local racing industry. In those times day trips to Brighton were particularly popular despite the fact that they cost £1 (a fortune in those days) and the fact they took over four hours to drive toBrighton. The vehicles were supplied by a variety of manufacturers, including Ford (Model T), Lancia and Reo (an American manufacturer). Mr. Richmond was a skilled engineer and also undertook repairs on motorcars and provided the services of an all round garage.
The 1930′s saw the business going from strength to strength with covered saloon coaches replacing the rudimentary charabancs. Although vehicles were developing all the time they were still very crude by today’s standards. In those days the Company undertook day trips to the coast and racecourses as well as an increasingly amount of private hire work. They also conveyed local school children and workers, a tradition that has continued to this day. In 1933, the Company moved toSouth Street because of the widening of the High Street. In the same year H. R. Richmond Limited was incorporated and took up its Operators Licence, which it has now held for longer than any other company within the London and Metropolitan Traffic Area. The South Street garage accommodated a fleet of six coaches and six horse boxes however all but one of the coaches were requisitioned at the outbreak of war in 1939.
The war years were difficult for theRichmondfamily. Roddy (Herbert)Richmondhad to use the remaining coach to transport children to and from school and on occasions to convey prisoners-of-war. In addition, Roddy’s sons were enlisted into the forces with Jack becoming a pilot in the RAF andRoybecoming a teleprinter operator with the Royal Signal Corps based inEgypt. Jack’s service in the RAF was short lived when his Wellington bomber crashed taking all the lives on board – Jack was only 22. In 1947 Roy was demobbed joined his father in rebuilding the business, a task that was made that much harder as vehicles and fuel were on rationing at that time.
The 1950’s were the heyday of the “day trip” and most people went on holiday to the south coast resorts. Epsom Coaches provided express services on a daily basis through the summer months. In 1951 the Company acquired two neighbouring coach operations, Leatherhead Coaches and Bookham Saloon Coaches. Coach holidays were featured for the first time to such places as the Cotswolds and ultimately into mainland Europe, a pioneering concept in those days requiring meticulous planning. The vehicles were becoming increasingly sophisticated by the standards of the day, the maximum seating capacity was 41 which was considered to be state of the art, representing an investment of over £1,700 with purchase tax!
The 1960’s were a time for expansion and the company also diversified by opening the first of four retail travel agencies. At the time coach operators had to be licensed to operate day trips and tours and Roy Richmond often had to argue his case for operating new services in the London Traffic Court. The early 1960’s also saw the relaxation of the rules restricting the length of coaches to the equivalent of 36 feet (11metres). Epsom Coaches were the first operator of these longer coaches, another first in a long line of innovations. In 1969 the founder of the Company Roddy Richmond died at the age of 77 leaving the company in Roy’s safe hands.
As a generation passed on, another became involved as Roy and Doris’s children Christopher, Andrew and Rosemary joined the firm. In 1971 the Company moved to a purpose built garage on the Longmead Estate in Epsom. At its opening the new premises were described as “the finest facilities in theUK” and were way ahead of the competition. The garage housed a fleet of around 30 coaches and during this period the company invested in many new heavyweight coaches with chassis from Leyland (Leopard), AEC (Reliance) and Bristol (LHS). These vehicles proved to be far more durable, comfortable and for the first time featured items such as reclining seats and carpeting. Epsom Travel continued to expand ultimately having branches in Epsom, Leatherhead, Banstead and central London.
In 1980 Epsom Coaches took over the road service licences of long established Surrey Motors of Sutton and later, those of Duval’s. In 1983 vehicle design took a further leap forward with the introduction of the first Volvo B10M with Plaxton Paramount 3500 highline coachwork. The new vehicles had air-suspension and air-conditioning which was a first for the Epsom fleet. In 1986 Epsom Buses was formed to take advantage of the deregulation of the bus industry. It was evident that there was a need for bus services to operate off the main arterial roads and the concept known as “Hopper” buses was developed in the Epsom area by the company. In 1988 Roy Richmond was awarded the MBE for services to the passenger transport industry.
In 1991 Andrew Richmond was appointed as Managing Director and shortly afterwards Steve Whiteway became the first non family member of the board. The nineties saw dramatic change for the Company as the bus division expanded. In 1997 the Company successfully won its first London Buses contract, the S4 bus route from St.Helier to Roundshaw. Expansion saw record investment in new buses culminating in an order for 11 high specification low floor buses, the first of their kind in London and branded Quality Line, the new name for the bus division. As the bus and coach business developed the decision was taken to sell off the travel agencies. Christopher Richmond decided to leave the Company to set up an hotel in the West Country. The fleet stood at over 70 vehicles by the end of the 1990’s.
The Company continued to grow under the direction of Andrew Richmond, as Roy Richmond gradually withdrew from the day to day business operation. The business now traded as the Epsom Coaches Group, an umbrella title for the bus, coach and holiday divisions and had become a leading name with a reputation for innovation and professionalism. Investment in new vehicles continued apace and in 2002 the first of a fleet of highly specified Setra coaches were added to the fleet. In 2005 the company expanded its operating base by acquiring an adjacent site which was developed into a new workshop to service the needs of an ever increasing fleet. In 2006 Epsom Coaches opened a holiday departure lounge which is a first for the industry. The new facility played a key role in providing the Company’s successful home to holiday service. In 2007 the company bought its first double deck buses following a successful bid for TfL routes 406 and 418. In November 2005 Doris Richmond died following many years of service as a Director and Company Secretary.
With the Company entering its 90th year, exciting plans were formulated to redevelop and expand the Blenheim Road site to provide a 21st century operating centre. The new facilities included a state-of-the-art workshop complex and spacious staff quarters incorporating rest areas and locker rooms. The new paint spraying facility was designed to accommodate any size of single or double deck vehicle and make use of environmentally friendly materials. The buildings meet the latest standards and the site can accommodate up to 130 vehicles, thus providing the foundation for future expansion. The work was completed in June 2010 and opened by Roy Richmond.
In January 2011 Roy Richmond died leaving a 64 year legacy of service to the company and a lifetime of commitment to the Borough of Epsom & Ewell. His name is remembered in the renaming of Blenheim Road as “Roy Richmond Way” in June 2011.
In April 2012, Andrew Richmond retired after over 40 years’ service, Andrew’s sister and fellow director also left the firm. Long serving Commercial Director, Steve Whiteway become Managing Director. At the same time, Epsom Coaches joined the RATP Dev Group, but continues as an independent company as it started in 1920, at the forefront of the passenger transport industry.