For more than 35 years lifeboat crews across the country relied on supplies and spare parts sent from Borehamwood to help them save lives.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution opened a new main depot at Stirling Way in 1939, to replace its old storeyard in Poplar, East London.

The depot, where lifeboat parts were made and stores of supplies were kept, was used until 1976, when a new base in Poole was opened. Staff at the depot, who numbered around 100, included machinists, carpenters, electricians, store workers and publicity officers.

Charlie Beer, who worked at the depot for 25 years, said: "It was a good way of life everybody knew each other and it was like a big family."

Mr Beer's father, Samuel, was chief storeman at the depot when it first opened, and lived with his family in one of three cottages at the site.

He had been working at the Poplar storeyard, but the RNLI decided to move because those premises would have been expensive to modernize.

Charlie, who now lives in Grove Road, worked as a teenager in the Borehamwood depot's machine shop, and remembers the friendly atmosphere.

"During the war we used to have table tennis and snooker tournaments and I remember playing quoits on the roof," he said.

However, Charlie also recalled one dreadful moment, when a shower of incendiary bombs dropped on the depot during the Blitz in 1940.

He heard a crash and found one bomb smouldering on the doorstep of the cottage, which he extinguished, along with another inside the depot.

"The garage had also been hit and one of the vans was blazing away, so I got the hose going from the hydrant," he said.

During the war, the machine shop, which mainly made propeller shafts, was also contracted to make parts for De Havilland's Mosquito bomber aeroplane.

Although the Beer family moved from the cottage in 1946, Charlie continued working there and was joined by his sister, Eileen, who took a job in the publicity department in the 1950s.

James Soutar also worked in the machine shop, and in 1949 was part of an RNLI team who were runners-up in Borehamwood and District Business Houses Darts League.

His son, George Soutar, of Essex Road, said: "I remember they used to have an annual works outing, usually to the seaside, and would stop at the pubs on the way home."

After the war, the depot soon began making parts for new rubber boats with outboard motors which the RNLI started to employ for in-shore rescue duties.

Occasionally the depot was used for the examination of lifeboats involved in accidents, including the Longhope, which capsized in 1969, with the loss of eight crew.

In 1976 the RNLI moved its headquarters from London to Poole, because its lease was running out, and it chose to transfer the depot also.

The Borehamwood depot had a carved stone figure of a lifeboatman above its entrance, which now adorns the new building in Dorset.

The former RNLI depot was recently bought by Safestore Plc, which intends to refurbish the building to offer self-storage units and offices.