A CENTURY ago, it ran a solitary, open bus between two towns in Wiltshire.

But the company registered in 1915 as Wilts and Dorset Motor Services Limited grew to be the dominant name in public transport locally.

In pictures: see more photos of Wilts and Dorset buses over the past 100 years >>>

Its history is told in a commemorative book, A Century of Service, written by long-time bus company employee Chris Harris.

Chris spent a year assembling the pictures and information that form the history of a company everyone in the area knows.

“Wilts & Dorset, the name, is 100 years old this year and there were thoughts of putting a book together. They asked me if I would like to do it,” he said.

“I had a lifetime career starting as a bus conductor and retiring as public relations manager.”

His research took him to the National Archives At Kew and the Kings Head Trust at Droitwich.

“I wanted to get the original documents,” he said.

“There are so many books that are effectively drawn from other printed sources. I went back to the original board papers, things like that.”

He benefited from the generosity of other enthusiasts who opened their photographic collections, especially Brian Jackson and David Pennels.

The name Wilts & Dorset was first coined by Edwin Coombes, who ran a bus service between Amesbury and Salisbury, using a locally-built bus.

It was registered with Companies House in January 1915 after Alfred Cannon and Douglas Mackenzie bought the company. It was soon expanding, taking over the operations of AA Brewer of Ringwood in 1915 and adding a route to Bournemouth in 1920, via Fordingbridge, Ringwood and Christchurch.

In 1921, it began running a service from Salisbury to Dorchester via Blandford.

The company was nationalised in 1948. A route map in the book from 1949 shows how far the its services had extended. Its route 97 ran to Cranborne via Wimborne, Corfe Mullen and Broadstone to Poole – although the Cranborne to Poole stretch was later taken over by its neighbouring state-owned operator, Hants & Dorset.

The company’s management was merged with that of Bournemouth-based Hants & Dorset in 1964. Douglas Morison, general manager of Hants & Dorset, was put in charge of both companies.

Both companies became part of the National Bus Company in 1969, and as more of the operation was run from Bournemouth, all its new vehicles began to carry Bournemouth number plates instead of Wiltshire ones.

In 1972, it was announced that Hants & Dorset would be the name for the entire fleet, and it seemed the Wilts & Dorset name was gone for good.

But in the run-up to privatisation of the bus industry, Hants & Dorset was split into three in 1983 – and the Wilts & Dorset bus company name was back.

Wilts & Dorset was again running routes across both those counties and South West Hampshire. The name had to be changed on 200 buses – and before the process could be finished, the book notes, some ran with just the letters “TS & Dorset”.

Shortly afterwards, the head office moved from Oxford Road in Bournemouth to Towngate House in Poole.

But the story of the company is about more than routes and buses, and the book records some of the people who made the business.

“Over the years, there have been lots of people who have put in a whole life time of service and it’s very much a family,” said Chris.

Today, the Wilts & Dorset name is being phased out in favour of Morebus. That name arrived in 2004, when new owners the Go Ahead group spent £4million on a fleet of 30 Volvo single-deckers.

The introduction of the new buses saw the abolition of the five old routes between Poole and Bournemouth in favour of the more frequent M1 and M2 services.

In 2012, a fleet of 36 new buses were delivered, and passenger numbers on the new routes in 2014 had gone up by 110 per cent by 2014.

The new buses have free Wi-Fi and USB charging points – but Morebus managing director Andrew Wickham says the basics of the business remain the same.

“We are a people business. It’s the hardware, the buses that everybody thinks people see, but they’re just metal on wheels,” he said.

“The really important thing is the people and Chris has brought that colour to the history of the company.

“I thought it was a very well put together book. Chris did an excellent piece of work there."

He said the book had gone down well with staff.

“We have a special offer so that employees get it a bit cheaper. Quite a lot of people have had one. It’s been really well received,” he added.

Chris Harris, who still produces the company’s staff newsletter Coasters, said it had been a “great privilege” to write the book.

“It’s a great industry to be involved in. I enjoyed every minute of it and I’m delighted to still be involved now,” he said.

• A Century of Service: The Year By year Story of Wilts and Dorset 1915-2015, is published by Best Impressions and retails for £33.