WARNING: This article has been classified 'BA' (Borderline Anorak).

By Matt Davis (SK07 DZJ at High Street, Epsom (Route 406)
406 between duties at Epsom Clock Tower
Photo by Matt Davis
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The 406 red double-decker bus is a familiar sight in the borough, running 8 miles (13 km) between Epsom Clock Tower and Kingston Bus Station via Ewell Village, Tolworth and Surbiton. The journey time is approximately 35 minutes, but this increases to approximately 53 during the rush hours. During school term, one bus in the morning and evening runs to/from Epsom General Hospital for the benefit of pupils at Rosebery School; this runs in a circle via Woodcote Road, Woodcote Side and Dorking Road.

From 28 June 2014, the service went from half-hourly to every 20 minutes. Furthermore, vintage buses, which used to operate the route, were added to the service to celebrate their 60th birthday on one day during October, so now seemed like a good time to look at the route's long history.

For the benefit of the bus enthusiast, an attempt to record each bus type used has been made, but is by no means definitive.

Early Days

It is surprising how late buses were introduced into our area. The railway had reached Epsom in 1847, but the town didn't see a bus until 1915 when a service started from Clapham Common, initially on Sundays only.

On 5 June 1920, the Reigate-based East Surrey Traction Company started running between Epsom (Marquis of Granby) and Redhill (Market Place) via Epsom Downs and Tadworth. This initially ran without a route number. The buses of that era, such as the 'B-type', were capable of seating 16 people inside and 18 in uncovered conditions on top, and ran on solid tyres. Top speed was 16 mph, which was above the legal limit at the time of 12 mph.

TThe Epsom-Redhill Service at the Marquis of Granby stop in Epsom High Street
The Epsom-Redhill Service at the Marquis of Granby stop in Epsom High Street
The absence of a route number indicates this was taken between 1920 and 1921.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

On 16 November 1921, it was allocated the East Surrey route number of S6. Extension to Kingston Bus Station followed on 14 April 1922 and the company livery changed from East Surrey blue to London General Omnibus Company red as a closer alliance had been formed with the LGOC; full takeover by the latter was completed in 1929.

A B-type working the S6 climbing Ewell Village High Street, 1922-24
A B-type working the S6 climbing Ewell Village High Street, 1922-24
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Before then, the London Traffic Act was introduced on 1 December 1924 to control independent 'pirate' operators and to impose a numbering scheme across London. It became known as the 'Bassom Scheme' as it was named after an Acting Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police. Country Area (South) was allocated the 400 range, so the S6 became the 406. Short journeys would be allocated letter suffixes until 1934.

By the late 1920s, the NS-type were in operation, these being far more comfortable with padded seats, and were to became the first class of double-deckers to be fitted with roofs and pneumatic tyres.

Two NS-types alongside; a 406 on the left with a 416 to Esher on the right
Two NS-types alongside; a 406 on the left with a 416 to Esher on the right
Epsom Town Centre late 1920s
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Related services were introduced between Redhill and Kingswood Windmill Press work service (406C, in 1937) and Epsom Town to Epsom Downs (406E), but these are no longer in operation. The 406F, allocated to race specials from Epsom Station to the racecourse from 1936, still runs at frequent intervals on race days. It became famous for using whatever bus type was available from a variety of garages, and has sometimes been designated '306'.

London Transport is Formed

In 1933, the privately owned Underground Group, including the London General Omnibus Company, became the London Passenger Transport Board, later known as London Transport. Reigate was the base for the Country Area of LT, running familiar Lincoln green buses in the countryside areas beyond greater London. By this time the 406 was operated by AEC Regent petrol engine buses designated the ST Class, based at Reigate and Leatherhead garages.

STs (and a covered NS, centre) passing each other in Epsom High Street circa 1935
STs working the 406 (and a covered NS, centre) passing each other in Epsom High Street, circa 1935
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

An ST working a 406F at the racecourse
An ST working a 406F at the racecourse
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The STs were ultimately replaced by a variant of the larger diesel engine STLs ('Short Type Lengthened') in 1936.

STLs could still be found on racecourse specials as late as 1953
STLs could still be found on racecourse specials as late as 1953,
such as STL 222 seen here.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

By the winter of 1949-50, the famous AEC Regent RT took over the 406 and were to stay until the early 1970s. These were the most prolific bus type ever produced, with over 7000 examples built. 22 were needed to work this service, 16 from Leatherhead and 6 from Reigate.

RT Class number 4755 heads for Kingston across Epsom Downs, 25 March 1975
RT Class number 4755 heads for Kingston across Epsom Downs, 25 March 1975
Photo © John Parkin

In May 1956, an Express service missing out minor stops was introduced between Tattenham Corner and Kingston, and a variant known as 406A ran between Kingston and Tadworth via Merland Rise in Tadworth. Both ran until 1970 when the 406 was re-routed via Merland Rise.

During the summer of 1957 the second prototype of the famous AEC Routemaster (RM) series was run experimentally on the 406 before mass introduction within London.

Route 406 RM-type bus on Country service Apr 1957
The second prototype Routemaster working the 406 at Epsom Racecourse, April 1957
Image courtesy of London Transport Museum

Between 1957 and withdrawal in 1968, the 406C ran between Kingswood and Earlswood.

During September 1968 Leatherhead Garage was flooded and some red RTs from the Central Area were drafted in as temporary replacements.

In 1970, the London Transport Country Area was hived off to become part of the National Bus Company. The RTs were partially displaced by a variant of the Routemaster, the RMC, which had better seats, wider spacing and electrically operated doors.

An RMC at Epsom Downs
RMC Class 1479 at Epsom Downs
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The common single-deck AEC Regals, designated RFs, were also used. A lighter shade of green now appeared as the National Bus Company's identity was imposed. London Country was keen to eliminate the need for conductors as soon as possible, although the 406 was one of the last routes to be converted to one-person operation. .

Running across Epsom Downs in the lighter green livery is RF Class Number 583, 25 March 1975
Running across Epsom Downs in the lighter green livery is RF 583, 25 March 1975
Photo © John Parkin

By the Seventies, buses were being built with the engine at the rear and in 1977 London Transport Merlins (MBS) were tried out, but found to be unsuitable. Instead, single-deck Leyland Nationals (LS) were used. These were replaced by older double-deck Leyland Atlanteans (AN), the first double deck rear-engine front entrance bus to be built, followed by the larger Olympians (LR), the last bus type to be built by Leyland.

Atlantean LR40 on a snow covoured Epsom Downs, February 1985
Atlantean Class LR40 on a snow covered Epsom Downs, February 1985
Photo © Ian Docwra

An Olympian heads through Beggars Hill towards Kingston. Note the trend for using buses for advertising purposes.
Olympian LR 14 heads through Beggars Hill towards Kingston, 1989
Note the trend for using buses for advertising purposes.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum


Following privatisation in 1986, the operation became part of London Country South West, later London & Country. By 1991, only a handful of services in the Monday to Friday peak hours ran as far as Redhill. The basic service was 4 buses an hour between Epsom and Kingston of which 2 were extended to Walton-on-the-Hill. These now ran via Surbiton station. By 1998 London & Country had been split into three and the 406 was now operated by Arriva (Guildford & West Surrey) from their garages at Crawley and Merstham. However, staff shortages and congestion meant that the service was prone to late running and cancellation, and was subsequently reduced to half-hourly.

A Rival Operation

And then it was if we entered a dream world for bus enthusiasts - during 1997/8, a local bus operator, Nostalgiabus based in Mitcham, started running an alternative service between Epsom and Kingston. This was designated the 306 and operated by Routemasters, complete with conductors! Unlike the 406, this avoided Surbiton station, speeding up the journey considerably in rush hours. The service only lasted two years, but was clearly effective. Arriva responded by adding a few services that were legally only allowed to run as far as Worcester Park Road (the Surrey boundary) ahead of the Nostalgiabus service, but ultimately neither were successful.

Transport for London

A significant development took place on 27 January 2001, when the section between Epsom and Kingston became a tendered Transport for London operation, becoming part of the red London bus network. The remainder of the route, from Epsom to Redhill, was not included in the scheme and was subsequently operated by Metrobus (the company as opposed to the bus type) and re-numbered the 460.

Initially the single-deck Dennis Dart Midibus (DP) was used, then from March double-decker Metro Cammell Metrobuses (M). Both were operated by London United from their Hounslow garage, meaning a long empty journey outside revenue-earning service; a scheme to extend the 406 to Teddington was put forward at this time to make the empty journey more cost-effective, but rejected.

By now an extra set of doors had been added in the middle of the bus to allow passengers to get off. Performance improved dramatically, with the added benefit that Travelcards and later Oystercards were accepted throughout, despite Epsom being outside the London Travelcard Zone.

In the following June, the allocation was transferred to Kingston Garage. When Kingston Garage closed the following November, the allocation was transferred to Tolworth Garage and the service operated by Volvo Olympians (VA), although Trident Alexanders (TA) also appeared.

A 'DD' operated by Quality Line climbing Beggars Hill, 2014
Photo by Nick Winfield

In 2007, the route passed to the current operator, Quality Line, the bus arm of Epsom Coaches and based at their garage in the Longmead Estate. Brand new double-decker Alexander Dennis Enviro400 buses, classified as 'DD' are used, which are capable of conveying 90 passengers. Midi-length single-deckers of the Optare Versa (OV) type have also appeared. At the same time, the 406 was diverted to run along its original route via Surbiton Hill Road, avoiding Surbiton station, giving us the route we know today.

Now running at 20 minute intervals Monday to Saturday, when combined with the similarly frequent Service 418 (Epsom to Kingston via West Ewell) gives a 10 minute frequency, the best ever service between the two towns.

The 75th Anniversary of the RT

On 26 October 2014, three RTs were added to the timetable, two of which were in (free) passenger service. The occasion was to mark their 75th anniversary year and the 60th birthday of one of the last to be built. I had a few journeys on RT4779, which ran a mixture of 406 and 418 journeys.

Built in 1954, this bus operated the 406 during the middle period of its working life, having been initially based at Windsor Garage before moving to Leatherhead in 1963. In 1969 it was painted red and later moved to Harrow where it last ran in service. It was then used as a training bus at Mortlake Garage before being sold in 1979. It was bought be Peter Osborn in 2008 and was in poor condition having been stored in the open. The bus has now been restored to the same condition as it would have been when in service.

I took a few pictures of this bus on the day:

At Ewell (Reigate Road) stop
At Ewell (Reigate Road) stop

Inside the lower deck
Inside the lower deck

Passing through Ewell Village
Passing through Ewell Village

At Kingston Bus Station
At Kingston Bus Station

Relevant Links

Thanks to the photographers who have contributed to this article, namely John Parkin who has a wonderful Flickr photo site with plenty of buses here, and Ian Docwra who has a Flickr site here.

Transport for London have a page with 406 running information.

An edited journey from Epsom to Kingston filmed from the upper deck of a 'DD' can be found on youtube.

Personal reminiscences of the local bus scene by local resident Peter Lemon can be found on this site here.

A description of the route by a group of women who have travelled every London bus route can be found here.

Peter Osborn has a site dedicated to LT's red single-deck buses here, plus a page dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the RT here, and an RT Picture Archive here.

Thanks to:

Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum
Hazel Ballan, Volunteer, Epsom & Ewell History Explorer

Nick Winfield and Peter Osborn
November 2014