THE first of the Sherwoods was haulage contractor John Sherwood, who during the First World War had a steam traction engine that he stationed in a depot opposite the church in Hurworth.

His sons, Harry and Alan, took on the business, moved into servicing and selling motor cars, and called themselves Sherwood Brothers. In the mid 1920s, they expanded from Hurworth and took over Oates Brothers garage which had been established in Grange Road, Darlington, in 1922.

The Oates boys’ garage overlooked South Park. From the get-go, the Oates brothers had connections with General Motors (GM) of America, and acted as agents for Buick, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, which were part of GM, as well as for Surrey Light Car and the International Speed Truck.

Perhaps when the Sherwood brothers took over the Oates brothers’ garage, they acquired the connection with GM. In 1925, GM bought Vauxhall of Luton and in 1928, Sherwoods began selling Vauxhall cars.

The company gradually expanded, opening branches in Stockton, Middlesbrough and West Hartlepool, building a new showroom on the opposite side of Grange Road, and establishing a sister coachbuilding business, Sherwoods and Winn, in Street 17 on the Aycliffe Trading Estate.

In 1979, it consolidated its Darlington operations in Chesnut Street, where Minories had once been. This meant that the Hurworth premises were sold off – we think houses have been built on the site in the last couple of decades. The old Oates Brothers garage was demolished and has been replaced by the petrol filling station, and the Grange Road showroom, after plans to convert it into a pub failed, is now a Majestic wine warehouse.

As with all proud companies, Sherwoods has always been keen on its heritage, and over the years anything of interest was placed in a history tin. A few years ago, I had a nosey through the tin and a few snippets caught my eye:

A LETTER from Vauxhall Motors in Luton to Sherwoods dated August 7, 1943, thanks the garage for agreeing to supply Government Utility Producer Gas Equipment.

With petrol in short supply during the war, alternative fuels were sought and, following negotiations with the Ministry of War, Vauxhall was converting some of its Bedford lorries to run on gas. It would appear that this gas was created by heating wood in a trailer towed behind the lorry – Germany is said to have had half-a-million wood gas powered vehicles on its roads during the war.

According to the Vauxhall letter, Sherwoods was agreeing to convert Bedfords to run on gas. A gas producer trailer was to cost £118 10s and the necessary conversion parts a further £19 10s.

IN the 1950s, “cyclemotors” were all the rage. They were basically pushbikes with little petrol engines attached to the real wheel, so they could reach a top speed of 18mph.

Sherwoods became the distributors for the Triumph Cyclemaster, a 25cc cyclemotor. In the scrapbox, there are several Cyclemaster logbooks, starting in 1950, which suggest that the company used them as errand bikes, nipping through the streets of Darlington.

Triumph aimed the Cyclemaster at young people, and marketed it with trendy slogans that had innocent meanings back then. “Go gay with Triumph” was one. “The gay bike for Jeanagers” was another.

These slogans were very much of their day – as was the concept of the cyclemotor. It was replaced by scooters and mopeds as the 1960s neared.

THERE are lots of licences in the tin, indicating the red tape involved in running a business. From the 1950s are the annual £1 Petroleum Licence issued by Darlington’s Chief Fire Officer which allowed Sherwoods to store petrol for sale.

Perhaps the most interesting licence is from 1968, when Sherwoods paid 7s 6d to keep a dog at the Grange Road garage.

William Pitt introduced a dog tax in 1796 which was turned into a flat-rate dog licence in 1866 when rabies was sweeping the nation. At decimalisation in 1971, the 7s 6d was converted exactly into 37½p. This was reduced to 37p when the halfpenny was withdrawn in 1984, which was where the cost of a dog licence remained until it was abolished in 1987.

AN early 1970s family saloon car travels through an African landscape. Mr and Mrs Smith are inside with their two children, armed with butterfly nets. In the background, a herd of wildebeest sweeps majestically across the plain, a tower of giraffes cranes to reach the trees and a pride of lions hungrily eye up the occupants of the Vauxhall.

But the voiceover said: “The Viva’s all round safety and immensely strong body structure gave them a feeling of security as Mrs Smith shot her first lion.”

This was a scene from Viva Safari, a one-minute promotional film made in 1972 to be shown in Rank cinemas, including the Odeon in Northgate, Darlington.

The voiceover continued: “Keeping cool with the aid of the through-flow ventilation, Katie delivered a well-aimed shot and bagged a rogue elephant.”

It concluded: “Even the speed and pace of a cheetah were no match for the lively Viva and they were soon safely back at home.”

At the end of the film, there was an opportunity for the local Vauxhall dealer to place their name and address – at a cost. Sherwoods took the opportunity. According to a receipt in the tin from the Rank Organisation, they paid £26.80 for their message to be shown eight times a week at the Odeon, and they paid a further £13.45 for a “Special Sound Commentary” – presumably a husky-voiced actor to get you hurrying down to the Grange Road garage.