The First Cars in County Durham
The first person to have a car in the area was Dr Ralph Renton.
Everyone knew when he was coming because you could hear the engine.
“Chug, chug chug, chug.”
You’d then see him sitting there bolt up right like he was at a desk. Dr Renton lived at Oakfield, Blackhill; he was born in 1878. His mother’s name was Mary Renton; she was born in 1850. She had two sisters who lived with her, Marjory and Agnes. They were still in Benfieldside 1901. Ralph’s father, Dr George Renton had been the GP at Shotley Bridge before his son.
Dr Renton’s car was a chain-driven 8 HP Single Cylinder Rover
This was their first motorcar, designed by Edmund Lewes who had been working for Daimler. Before that they’d made motorbikes and before than they’d made bicycles. There were mostly horse drawn vehicles when I was a boy, private cars were very rare.
They next people after that to have a motor car were C.T. Mailings of Ford Potteries, Greenwood, Shotley Bridge. It was a Lanchester.
It had tiller steering and bicycle wheels
When the cars came on the go JG got a mechanic driver, a man called Geldart, to come up from Middlesborough to teach my father how to drive.
The Murrays bought a 10 HP Coventry Humber from this firm in Middlesborough and later bought a 30/40 Beeston Humber.
Thomas Humber was a blacksmith from Beeston near Nottingham
He started with velocipedes, they had no chains, you just sat on them to make them go by running your feet along the ground. He got into bicycles and then tricycles and by the 1890’s he was building copies of Leon Bollee’s tricar. As well as tricycles, they built motorcycles and voiturettes. They had two speeds those first cars, one forwards, one backwards. They were well built and a more expensive car.
As a boy my father used to take me up to the yard to fiddle on with the engines
When old Dick Murray built Benfieldside House he had two massive stone pillars put up at the bottom of the drive. There was a little wicker gate into the lodge where we lived. J G. used to have a go with the Beeston Humber. One day he missed the gate and ran into the pillar which twisted round its base.
“How he didn’t knock it into our cottage I don’t know”.
These pillars were incorporated into the estate agent’s house which is called ‘Glastonbury’ and is on Benfieldside Road.
A second groom was taken on to look after the horses and my father took on the new role of chauffer. He used to drive J.G. all around the branches of the North Eastern Breweries, to the Moor Street Brewery in Sunderland, the Tower Brewery in Spennymore, the Weir Brewery in Stockton and up to the bottling plant at Blackhill next to the offices where I worked.
I blame cars for the growth in crime. You never heard of burglaries, but once the criminal types could nip in and out by car they’d target these big houses. Put the wind up a lot of people that.