The Country Area Garages

Tring Garage Plate The bus garage at Tring was one of the few quintessentially COUNTRY bus garages of the London Transport empire. It originated in 1925 with Messrs. E. and F. Prentice, who traded as Chiltern Bus Services, although it was the Aylesbury Motorbus Company whose services from Watford to Aylesbury were co-ordinated with National from 1929 and known as 301. The Chiltern business was compulsorily purchased by the LPTB in 1933, and the building significantly rebuilt into the contemporary style.

The number of vehicles allocated was always small. In the years before World War 2 only four double-deck vehicles were used, on the 301 service which was also provided for by Hemel Hempstead. The remaining stock was single-deck: 5 Green Line coaches and two buses used on the local 387 to Tring Station and Aldbury, and the 352 to Berkhamsted and Dunstable. Incredibly, almost nothing changed except a small increase in the allocation to 7 double and 12 single-deck vehicles in the early sixties. Little wonder that Tring was nick-named 'Sleepy Hollow' by the staff at nearby HH. Naturally enough, major body repairs and repainting were undertaken at that much larger garage.

It will never be known just why sleepy Tring should become home to the first RTs to be sent to the Country area in 1948. Six arrived in July 1948, and then by August HH received 23. What a sight they must have been romping along the London Road. I'm glad that I once made the effort to reach Aylesbury on the 301, even though it meant a complex interchange from the 330 from St.Albans.

Tring garage was also the home of rare, older buses, at least partly because it was the stabling point for the Aldenham staff buses, which were frequently wartime or roof-box, red RTs. It was also home to the early Strachans-bodied Merlin XMB15, later swapped for MBS4 which was experimentally overhauled by LT, but then rejected along with all its siblings. Ultimately the Leyland National (including LNC27) reigned supreme, but by then more desperate cost-cutting was required and Tring Garage closed in April 1977 on cessation of GreenLine service 706. All staff and vehicles were transferred to Hemel Hempstead.

Two Waters Garage Plate Hemel Hempstead was a quiet country town when National's original corrugated iron shed at Bury Road was taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board. Much more lavish facilities were immediately provided on the London Road, about a mile south of the town on the opposite side of Boxmoor. It was the objections of the Boxmoor trust to the encroachment by the London to Birmingham Railway that had resulted in the operation of a bus between Boxmoor Station and Hemel Hempstead by the LNWR - one of the earliest established motor bus services in the area, and one of the few that operated during the First World War.

Two Waters was opened in 1935, built in the Holden/Pick style of the time with landscaped gardens and a separate two-storey office block. The upper storey was a canteen and snooker room, reputedly paid for by the Sports and Social Club. By 1938 the allocation was 33 vehicles, 18 single-deck and 15 double-deck, which served the trunk route to Aylesbury or Watford (shared with nearby Tring) and the widespread network of routes serving the rural district centred on the old market town. The valley of the River Gade was busy with paper mills, so there was a high demand for works journeys in the Apsley area. Several routes were shared with other garages, such as Tring, St.Albans and Watford.

In the mid fifties, Hemel Hempstead was chosen as the site of one of the peripheral 'New Towns'. By 1960 the alloctaion had almost doubled, and by 1976 in London Country days it was 76. Needless to say, the gardens vanished in favour of more vehicle parking space. The town was also the site of the second experiment in one-man operation of larger single-deck buses from August 1954. RF517, 647 and 700 were the guinea-pigs and the route was the 316. At the end of the year HH's own RF649 was sent away for conversion in exchange for the return of RF517 and 700. When one-man operation was extended in July 1956 with a further batch of converted RFs, route 317 was the subject. Ironically the 316 lost its RFs in favour of GSs! Additional RFs for Green Line route 719 arrived when it was started in July 1957. In 1960, HH was the first garage to operate the experimental RW one-man, dual-entrance, single-deck AEC Reliances. They were not a success, but didn't prevent LT pushing ahead with a fleet of similar vehicles at the end of the decade.

With deliveries of the AEC Merlin gathering pace, February 1969 saw the introduction of 11 MBS AUTOFARE-fitted buses replacing RT and RF vehicles on routes 314 and 344. Ironically it was decimalisation in February 1971 that ended this brave experiment, and all the AUTOFARE machines were replaced by standard equipment and fares tables. Alone among the New Towns, the Merlins were not later exchanged for double-deck Atlanteans. Their legendary unreliability was overcome in part by the hire of surplus red vehicles from the Central area, brightening the scene a little. From May 1975 all the town centre routes were converted to flat fare, and the red vehicles were sent away in favour of working green ones from SA. In 1977 a significant revision of the local services saw the local routes renumbered into an H series to improve their profile.

Green Line services were mostly single-deck, but the 719 was RMC operated from 1962-67 and the 708 to East Grinstead was then converted to Routemasters until 1969. The RMC vehicles went to replace RTs at a number of garages, including Hatfield. Elderly RF vehicles were replaced by Leyland Nationals before the network as we knew it was revamped with posh coaches and finally vanished completely.

Despite the loss of the much-loved RT from service, the class lived on in training duty for some time, and NBC-liveried RT1018 was in use at HH for a few years (although being attached officially to SV), becoming a celebrity machine before retiring into the capable hands of the Mike Lloyd.

At privatisation HH was taken over as an operating depot of London Country (North West) Ltd., which was soon bought by Luton and District and rebranded 'The Shires'. The Two Waters garage was closed an demolished in 1997 and today a link to the bypass runs straight across the site, leaving no sign that it had existed.

I am pleased to acknowledge the RT/RF Register and Mike Lloyd for most of the information above.