Watford was one of the major centres for operation of bus and coach services in the northern area - entirely natural given the concentration of housing and employment in the town and surrounding areas. Watford was also chosen for early operation of horse and motor bus by the London & North Western Railway. A motor bus was run between Watford Junction railway station and Croxley Green from 1906, later extending to Garston by 1913. In the same year a through service to Hemel Hempstead was implemented, but all the services were withdrawn during the 1914-18 war.
After the war the expanding LGOC empire quickly took advantage of the LNWR's lack of interest in resuming bus services, and four routes were inaugurated in 1920. To provide for both double and single deck vehicles, a new garage was built in Leavesden Road coded WT. Its completion delayed the start of the new services, which finally got under way in August 1920. The first services were 143 Croxley Green to Garston, 145 Bushey to Boxmoor and 147 Bushey to Hemel Hempstead. In the Autumn the routes were extended, the 143 to St.Albans and the 145 to Berkhamsted. However, the LGOC's lower rate of pay for crews in the country area was a cause of unrest which led to a damaging strike in 1921, after which the National company was employed as an agent and took over the management of the garage. Services were renumbered in the N- series, becoming N1, N2, N3. Red buses that reached the town from the South were provided by central area garages from that time onwards. In the Bassom renumbering of 1924 the route to Northchurch became 301 and the Hemel Hempstaed route 302, numbers recognisable to all LCBS fans.
Rapid growth in the service provision under the management of National soon led to a need for more space. Much larger premises were provided at Watford High Street coded WA in 1925, leading to the closure of the Leavesden Road garage. This situation proved rather temporary, as WT was reopened in October 1929 to service the first Green Line operation of coaches to Golders Green (later also to Charing Cross). The vehicles for this high-frequency operation were 15 AEC Reliance 660 all-weather 32-seat coaches from the private hire fleet, known as the R Types. In 1930 these vehicles were replaced by some of the first batch of the new Reliance 662 T Type coaches. The successful services were augmented by a new route from Tring, and Watford Corporation stepped in to limit journeys along the High Street! Services of this type were also provided by other operators such as Bucks Express who had a separate garage in the High Street, but they were bought out early in 1932. The pattern of services remained largely unchanged, with serices from Watford to Golders Green (interchange with Underground), Reigate and Crawley, until the outbreak of WWII. The Entire Green Line network was shut down almost immediately, and Watford did not regain any of its services despite the resumption of some parts of the network as strategic wartime transport links. Leavesden Road garage never serviced Green Line operations again, and finally closed on 17th June 1952, when the new Garston garage was complete. One of the final acts was the replacement of unsatisfactory 11T11 vehicles by 10T10s replaced at other garages by spanking-new RF coaches. Watford High Street also gained 10T10s displaced by downgraded TF coaches at St.Albans. Watford High Street garage closed on 28th April 1959, as the change-over to the new garage was completed.
Garston garage became operational on 18th June 1952. It was a lavish premises with space for 150 buses. The optimism was short-lived, however, as growth in service provision did not match the ambition of the designers. The space was much appreciated for the storage of a large number of brand-new RT buses which were surplus before delivery! Pictures show the buses standing on their wheel hubs to avoid the requirement for fitting tyres to non-operational stock. However, the new facility with its modern servicing equipment was much appreciated and the site grew into a northern area engineering centre to complement the Reigate operation in the South. Since the Watford garages did not service Green Line routes at the time of opening, there was no allocation of RFs until July 1953 when 12 of the bus version replaced earlier T types on the 318 route. With the start of the new 719 service in July 1956 a small fleet of RFs newly-converted from buses arrived, which was enlarged in 1957. One-man operation came to GR in October 1958 when the 319 route group was given modified RFs.
RMC vehicles 1499-1506 arrived for conversion of the Green Line 719 in November 1962, replacing 9 RFs in 1962, but they lasted only until December 1967, when one-man RFs returned. These soldiered on until early 1974 when they were replaced by the second batch of SNC vehicles. These were the short version, with high-backed coach seating, which was rather better than the early LNC. The second influx of Routemasters was a batch of RML which arrived in March 1966, to work the 306, 311 and 347. They also filled in on short school workings of the 346. I recall enjoying the long 347 run to Uxbridge, and the 306 from New Barnet Station was a good link with the 303 to Hitchin. Routemasters were unusual in the Northern country area during my Green Rover days. When all regular Garston routes were finally converted to one-man operation on 1st September 1978 RML vehicles were delicensed for disposal. It was also the end of crewed operation in the northern operating area.
A bold and unpopular move in February 1969 saw the introduction of 10 AEC Merlin MBS buses on the Autofare 346 routes, and 6 MB on the 318 and 335 from 15th February 1969. Although similar, it appears that GR did not host the subsequent SM vehicles, rather like HH, but replaced MB with SNB as they became available. It was involved in the re-certification programme, and by 1978 was host to a number of defunct MBs which were disposed of for scrap. The last MB at GR was withdrawn on 4th February 1979.
The building was adopted as the headquarters of the London Country (North West) fleet, and after acquisition by Luton and District continued as the overhaul and repair depot for The Shires, subsequently Arriva Herts & Essex. The building is still in use today, as befits such a relatively modern facility.