WHILE catching the bus is something many people do daily, travelling by bus has only been an option for about 100 years — and in that time it has changed a lot.

Driving buses was more complicated in the early days, when most roads weren’t tarred and some buses had only solid tyres, so drivers needed to often also be competent mechanics.

But many of the first drivers were former soldiers returning from the First World War with experience of driving and maintaining vehicles in much more appalling conditions. The war also left a glut of cheap ex-military vehicles for sale; several sold at the tip in Slough became some of the first local buses.

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This history of local pioneering bus companies is told in a new book by a local author, Early Independents of Bracknell, Crowthorne and Wokingham, written and self-published by Paul Lacey.

The expert knowledge in the book draws from over 50 years of research from archived newspapers, libraries in Bracknell and Reading, the Berkshire Archives, and enthusiast groups Omnibus Society and PSV Circle.

Mr Lacey, 68, Wokingham, interviewed people who used to run early independent bus services, and their relatives and employees, for his history of local bus drivers, the changing services they ran, and the different vehicles they drove.

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The book gives a wealth of detail: how roads before they were first tarmaced would get rutted and muddy when it rained; and how horses dying in the First World War created the demand for vehicles with engines: including buses.

It also describes the successes and failures of different businesses, battles with licensing authorities, and even how local smells changed from hay and manure to petrol and oil.

Early Independents of Bracknell, Crowthorne and Wokingham was published in January and is the 15th book Mr Lacey has written.

This volume published in January is the second in a three-part series. The first volume, looking at Henley and Marlow, was published February last year, while the third will cover Maidenhead and is planned for early next year.

Photos and sketches of buses, and old ordnance survey maps help create a vivid image of how different buses were in the pioneering days through to the 1960s; as well as adverts in local newspapers and directories from 1910s for the “best horses and most comfortable carriages”.

While on one hand parts of the writing style, like “number of persons” and “sea-change” sound unfortunately as if written by someone in local government, Mr Lacey’s 10 years of working for a local council — organising school buses and transport for people with special needs — does give the book a particularly up-close perspective.

Early Independents is available to buy from local bookshops or to order from the writer directly.