What did Safestore Head Office used to be?
Safestore Head Office, Stirling Way, Borehamwood could be described as unique and definitely has a nautical feel to it; it's a two-storey white-washed building with a dramatic curve over the front entrance, with what seems to be a flagpole poking out of the top.
According to a few long-term employees Safestore’s Head Office used to be a depot for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution). If you haven’t come across the RNLI before, it’s a UK based charity that predominantly saves people at sea, since it’s conception in 1824 they have saved over 140,000 lives. The land was farmland, with a private service road, until after it was sold to “The Royal National Lifeboat Institution For The Preservation of Life From Shipwreck” on 12 October 1938.
There are some restrictions on the title “Not to use the Property as an aerodrome or as a place for landing or taking off in flight or for any other purpose in connection with an airship or other flying machine or as a hospital or home for the reception of persons of unsound mind whether so found or not may be suffering or recovering from any infectious disease or as a shooting school
“There are canteens and recreation rooms for staff, and three cottages for the depot foreman, the storehouseman, the deputy storehouseman and their families”.
It may seem odd that the RNLI, a sea-based charity, would move it’s depot from Poplar East London in 1937, which isn’t far from the Thames River, to Borehamwood which is land-locked. Apparently, it was moved here because of the excellent road links, which made a bit more sense.
From 1939-1976 the depot was used for making parts, storing supplies and examining damaged boats, ‘including the Longhope, which capsized in 1969, with the loss of eight crew.’ In addition to the nautical feel of the building, there is a metal arched structure in the back of our facility, which is now a 1750 Square foot self storage unit but was where the RNLI boats would be worked on.
According to a long term employee of the RNLI, James Beer, the depot was hit during the blitz in the 1940s.
"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.
In 1976, when the lease came up RNLI decided to relocate to Poole in Dorset. We believe the building was left empty until 2001 when Safestore acquired it, began renovations to include offices and self-storage units before moving in in 2004/2005.
Interestingly though, there’s mention of a carved stone figure of a life boatman, that used to be on the front of the building, apparently the statue was moved to the new office in Poole, but after it was vandalised a copy was made to take its place and the original was moved to Kent where it stands guard looking out over the water towards a famous sea disaster.
Sources: The Oxford Daily
and Art Deco in the UK