Trade directories

This guide was last updated in 2014

Gill Blanchard, one of the researchers for Mary Berry’s episode, shows how you can use trade directories to uncover more about traders in your family...

The most important and comprehensive resource for researching tradesmen is to check the local trade directories, so when researchers discovered from the census that Mary Berry had a baker in the family, this was the first thing they turned to.

Trade directories offer unique glimpses into our ancestors’ lives. As well as listing the gentry, clergy, professional people, merchants and people in trade they are time capsules offering snapshots of history, geography, work and culture.

They can provide people’s locations; help narrow down someone’s date of death, move or retirement and describe how a place flourished or declined economically.

The first directory was Samuel Lee’s 1677 list of London merchants, followed by a number for London and cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield in the 1700s.

County and city directories flourished in the 19th century with the first national series published by Pigot between 1814 and 1853, and by White and Kelly from the 1830s. Most of these include area histories and short descriptions of each parish. Regional directories continued until the 1930s and street directories until the 1970s.

Widely used by commercial travellers, the inclusion of stagecoach and railway connections made directories invaluable to others. More personally, they convey the rhythm of day-to-day life through their lists of market days, fairs, postal services and institutions.

As a result, they enable us to visualise where, how and when our ancestors might have socialised, attended religious services; communicated, transported goods and found work. We also find out about local charities; who was responsible for law and order and where people went for help when old, poor or sick.

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