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1949 Bedford OB to retrace Reliance Motor Services route from the 1960s from Newbury across the Berkshire Downs on Saturday



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The route the little bus will take includes running through the now pedestrianised Newbury town centre by special permission of West Berkshire Council.

The little cream and brown bus leaving Newbury’s bus station at 12.15pm on Saturday, September 25, will be the Reliance service across the Berkshire Downs to Brightwalton, calling at Donnington, Winterbourne, North Heath, Leckhampstead and Chaddleworth.

It last ran more than 50 years ago.

An original Reliance Bedford bus of the type that will follow the old route. Photo: Roy Marshall Collection
An original Reliance Bedford bus of the type that will follow the old route. Photo: Roy Marshall Collection

Passengers joining the 29-seater 1949 Bedford OB in Newbury Wharf will include members of the family that operated Reliance Motor Services buses and coaches in West Berkshire over several generations.

The Bedford OB has been made available by Mervyn Annetts of Hampshire-based Mervyn’s Coaches. Set up in 1982, Mervyn’s company took on the cream and brown livery previously used by Reliance.

The trip to Brightwalton will follow the timetable of one of Reliance’s busiest services, the 12.15pm shoppers return run. It will pass through Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, Newbury at approximately 12.20pm; Donnington at 12.25pm; Winterbourne at 12.40pm; Leckhampstead at 12.45pm and Chaddleworth at 12.50pm.

Reliance Bus
Reliance Bus

The bus will terminate at Brightwalton Village Hall at 1pm for a celebration gathering with friends.

The memories they will be reviving stretch right back to 1917 when local woodman James Hedges began serving the villages around his home at Brightwalton as a horse-drawn carrier.

His elder son, George Hedges, took over two years later when he returned home from service in the First World War.

It set the scene for a business that soon invested in Model T Ford and other motorised buses, but additionally carried coal, while also performing body switches on its vehicles to allow it to move furniture at weekends. Reliance Motor Services grew from those beginnings to become one of the UK’s most respected independent bus and coach operators.

Reliance founder George Hedges with the 1931 Gilford (fleet no 4)
Reliance founder George Hedges with the 1931 Gilford (fleet no 4)

The historic run along the old 12-mile route north from Newbury marks the much-delayed launch of a book Reliance Motor Services – The Story of a Family-Owned Independent Bus Company. Published during the first coronavirus lockdown, it has been written by George’s grandson, Barrie Hedges, and his own school days friend, devoted bus enthusiast David Wilder.

David completed nearly 50 years service in the bus industry, most recently as general manager of Newbury & District.

Together, David and Barrie pieced together the story not just of Reliance Motor Services but of the local communities whose horizons it helped to expand between the two World Wars and subsequently.

George Hedges (left) drove many village outings, including this one from Peasemore in the late 1940s. The bus was a special wartime utility Bedford OWB with wooden slatted seats
George Hedges (left) drove many village outings, including this one from Peasemore in the late 1940s. The bus was a special wartime utility Bedford OWB with wooden slatted seats

In the days before most families had cars, country buses made it possible for people to travel to work, to school and for leisure.

Reliance carried on under huge pressures during the last war and made it possible for women to get to work in local wartime factories and munitions depots; and from the 1950s at the atomic establishments at Harwell and Aldermaston.

Many visited the seaside, major events and large cities for the first time by bus. Friendships and even marriages were forged on a Reliance bus.

The Busy Reliance depot at Brightwalton in the early 1960s – it is now a housing estate
The Busy Reliance depot at Brightwalton in the early 1960s – it is now a housing estate

The book includes memories from the few Reliance drivers and conductresses still surviving. It also features more than 150 photographs of old vehicles, family, employees and local scenes. Many have never previously been published.

When Reliance finally closed in 1985, half its remaining fleet was sold to operators in Malta. In researching the book, David and Barrie tracked those and other coaches and found a handful still running in the UK today, some as wedding vehicles and one (still carrying the company livery) on occasional display with the Science Museum.

The book also takes looks at the village of Brightwalton, which underwent its own crisis when Reliance and then the respected haulier Sayers Transport Services moved their operations from its main street to Newbury and Thatcham respectively in the 1960s and 1970s.

With the local farms by then employing far fewer people, the village soon faced the potential closure of its school. Its shop and two pubs both closed through that era.

The book would not have been possible without David Wilder’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the company and the wider industry in which it operated.

By the mid 1970s, the Reliance fleet numbers had climbed to 141, 142 and 143 with investment in this trio of Bedford Duple Dominants
By the mid 1970s, the Reliance fleet numbers had climbed to 141, 142 and 143 with investment in this trio of Bedford Duple Dominants

Mr Wilder said: “I was fascinated by the company from my earliest days and have spent a lifetime collecting every shred of information that I could find about the company’s operations and its fleet.

“I have also long been been convinced that Reliance did far more to improve the life of local residents, and to help enhance the prosperity of the villages served than is generally appreciated.”

For Barrie Hedges, the book has provided a much closer understanding not just of his family and the business, but of the village he grew up in.

Mr Hedges said: “I have always thought of the Brightwalton of my early days as a quite extraordinary and vibrant community which was self sustaining in a way that isn’t possible any longer.

“I hope those who love it as I do will feel the book makes a contribution to the social history of that fascinating era.”

See the Bedford bus retrace the old Reliance Motor Services route
See the Bedford bus retrace the old Reliance Motor Services route


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