What is in a Directory?
- A topographical description of the area, often including its geology, soils, agriculture, industries, transport, etc.
- The history of the area
- Lists of the inhabitants that have trades, and in most of the later directories
even street by street, house by house lists of all householders
- "Official" lists of local government and other institutions
How old are directories?
The earliest directories were published for the major cities, starting in London.
The first recognisable London directory was published in 1677 - although it was not
until 1734 that a second directory appeared. In Birmingham the first directory
appeared around 1767 but these were very selective, and it was not until Wrightson started publishing his
directories around 1800 that there was more comprehensive coverage.
The Post Office started publishing directories for London in 1799. It was
originally compiled by an inspector of inland letter carriers, but in 1835 he
sold the copyright to Frederick Kelly, who was then Chief Inspector of Inland
letter carriers. Despite the obvious conflicty of interest, Kelly started
publishing directories on his own account, and from 1845 onwards expanded into
other provincial areas.
Did people have to pay to be included in a directory?
In the early days, some publishers tried charging for entries, notably Pye in
Birmingham around 1800, but this did not prove popular. Directory
publishers made their money by selling directories and by selling advertising
space. However, they had to get the price right - early publishers went
out of business because the prices they charged for their directories were too
Is my ancestor going to be found in a directory?
Not necessarily. The early directories included people
with trades. This doesn't mean just businesses and shops, but anyone with a
recognised trade, such as a chimney sweep, a teacher, or a dress maker working
from home. Apprentices and labourers were not included, although in the later
post 1900 directories, that had street listings of people in major towns, such
people were included. In any case, only the head of household was listed in a