Friday, 22 May 2009

Chapter 8 Tring Garage

Once more the ritual of route learning, although at Tring this was to occupy only two days as Tring operated the same routes as Hemel Hempstead, namely the 301, 302, and 312. The only additional routes to learn were the 387, Tring town to Aldbury via Tring Station, and the Green Line route 706, Aylesbury to Chelsham via London Victoria. Unlike Hemel Hempstead Garage where one only learnt the Green Line route 708 if one was promoted to the Green line rota, at Tring you had to do route learning on the 706. So one morning I joined Driver Johnny Hercules for a trip to Chelsham in Surrey. John was a very cheerful driver who hailed from the West Indies and whose friendship I retained until only a couple of years ago when John finally retired back home to the West Indies. Johns good advice for route learning was to hand me the fare chart and he called out all the fare stages as we came to them. Anyway thanks to John's help in route learning I did manage to remember how to reach Chelsham, and most important of all to find the Green Line drivers table at Chelsham Garage.
As a humble bus driver I was in awe of the drivers on the coach rota, the likes of Ted Goodchild, Pete Watkins, Morris Phillips, Ted Francis, Jack Webster and Bert Ponder. These guys used to drive through London every day, something I always wanted to do. But for me it was driving to Watford and Aylesbury. Even the 387 to Aldbury was out of reach. This route was the sole preserve of two senior drivers Fred Sennet and George Prentice who except when on holidays and Monday mornings worked this route between them. In fact it was George’s uncle, E. Prentice, operating as Chiltern Bus Services who had actually owned the premises which became Tring Garage. The business of Chiltern Bus Services being bought out by London General Country Services in May 1933, a few months prior to the formation of London Transport on July 1933. The premises of E. Prentice and Son and the garage work shops being completely rebuilt in the classic London Transport style opening on 31st October 1935 at a cost of £14,000.
During my first six months with London Country I could be asked to cover conductor duties as well as driving duties on 301s from Aylesbury to Little Bushey, which then ran back to Hemel Hempstead and then changed to route 302 to Watford Heath. Also I worked on our small allocation of 312 duties from Tring to Hemel Hempstead Grove Hill. In the early 1970s the two Hemel Hempstead estates of Highfield and Grove Hill were physically separated from each other until a road connecting Aycliffe Drive to Cambrian Way was built. But for reasons best known to the local council the only vehicles permitted to use this link road were buses. To stop any other vehicles driving between Highfield and Grove Hill a ramp was installed across the road which would lower on the approach of a bus, this ramp was controlled by traffic signals. Unfortunately one evening one of our Tring coach drivers who was working the 312 bus route was approaching the ramp driving a Route Master and under the impression that the traffic signals applied only to motorist, drove over the ramp whilst the ramp was still in the raised position. The result was a very sudden deceleration with the oil sump being ripped off the bus. Apart from the driver suffering a few bruises the only other casualty was that of a gentleman sitting upstairs smoking a pipe, whose pipe got stuck in his throat. Needless to say the driver faced disciplinary charges but under advice from the union went off sick for a few weeks until he was due to retire. My recollection of working the 312 include the time when I upset my conductress at the time Peggy Williams. At the end of a long day we were sitting at the terminus at Grove Hill, it was late at night and Peggy was chatting away to me when I just fell asleep sitting on the seat opposite her. “Thanks a lot, I hope I wasn’t boring you too much”
“Sorry Peggy, best get back in the cab”
But she was a really great conductress, one who left the running of the bus to the driver. In fact the first time she was my conductress I was waiting for the bell to depart from Tring, after a while I got out of the cab and went back to the platform to see if she was ok.
“What’s up Peggy? I’ve been waiting for the bell”
“Oh all the other drivers just check their mirrors to see when all the passengers have boarded and then just go.”
Just to show that some things never change. One evening when we arrived at Grove hill on the 312 from Tring my permanent conductor Bill Hall, who was a lovely old Geordie, said
“Dave when we go back down Cattsdell if I ring the bell, just stop will you”
“Well them little buggers upstairs threw out all the seats into the gardens and I reckon I’ll have to go and get them all back”
Well I guess those little buggers in Grove Hill have now spawned little buggers of their own as we still get vandalism on the buses to-day except instead of throwing out the seats they prefer to throw stones at the buses as we go past.
To day when one driver relieves another driver on the road it is a relatively simple procedure, providing the driver taking over knows where he is going and the driver coming off stops at the correct point (more of this simple procedure later), but a crew change is fraught with danger.
Drivers have been known to go without their conductors, conductors have boarded the wrong bus unbeknown to the driver.
My best crew operated cock up occurred when my conductor and I were supposed to take over a 301 from Aylesbury to Watford at Tring. It was a nice sunny summer afternoon when the bus drew up. My conductor boarded the bus whilst I chatted to the conductor who had just got off the bus. I then walked along to the front of the bus, just then I heard a couple of bells and off went the bus, Fred Sapwell the driver had forgotten to come off at the Garage and my conductor thought we had changed over. Expecting Fred to realise his mistake and come off at Hemel Hempstead I caught the next Green line to Hemel Hempstead, unfortunately nobody had thought to tell the control inspector at Hemel Hempstead and poor Fred just carried on, so I had a nice long meal break at Hemel Hempstead whilst Fred continued to Watford and Little Bushey. Mind you I never found out if my conductor realised Fred was up the front end and just let him carry on or not.


  1. Hi Dave. Your post has brought many happy (and some not so happy) memories flooding back. I also was a driver at Tring at the time you are mentioning, and remember all the names you mention. The chap who pranged the RM at Cambrian Way was George Phillips. I, much to my shame, laughed long and loud about the chap with the pipe. My conductor when I first started was Jim Burch, a great guy. I occasionally had Ethel Chappin on the back as well. The garage was full of characters, and I remember all their names. The one most deserving of the title "character" as far as I`m concerned, was Harry Ketteringham. I "promoted" to Green Line for about the last 3 years of the life of the Garage. I remember Pete Watkins doing the last ever 706 into the Garage at about 1am on the day of closure, and a good few drinks flowed in The Anchor afterwards. After "Taffy" Williams and Ray Brookes left with the closure, I`m sure the profits of The Anchor and Brittania slumped somewhat.
    I did 35 years of PSV work, before being medically retired with heart trouble. After Tring closed, I went to Amersham, then the new High Wycombe garage, then moved about the country a bit, working on bus and coach firms all over the country. I finished up on RoadCar in Lincoln, which was taken over by Stagecoach, and them fell ill and had to pack up.
    I think I know your surname but won`t put it down, but I think we last met a few years ago at Victoria, when you was on a Green Line and I was on National Express, and went for a walk around Victoria to kill time. I don`t know how or if you`ll get in touch, but it was great reading your memories of old TG.

    1. long time since that post so hope you are still ok. I retired 5 years ago but still think Tring was the best time ever

  2. Hi Dave
    This is a long shot but I am looking for information on a George Henry Prentice who was a bus driver in the War years & after in the London area. In 1942 he lived in Harringay Road Tottenham, he was also in the Army during the war & was a Secret War Correspondent, I have also been told that after the war he set up a coach company in Rainham. If you or anyone else can help please get in touch with me.
    Thank You

  3. We had a George Prentice as a driver at Tring although he passed away a few years back. His uncle run a coach company on the site of the LT Tring garage