What is in a Directory?

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 high. 

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 directory.