What is a trade directory?
Trade directories are the equivalent of the telephone directory and the Yellow Pages. They were published on a county or city basis every year and contain detailed descriptions of every village and town in the county.
They also contain pages and pages of advertisements, for both local and national companies. They are a real treasure trove of sources for local history. Various firms published them from the 1760s into the late 1960s in some cases.
Perhaps the most famous is Kelly’s Directory, but others include The Post Office, Pigot and Co, and Hunt and Company. Some firms published trade directories in only one part of the country, others published across the whole country. It is simply a matter of popping in to the local studies section of your local library, or the nearest Records Office, to find out what is available for your area.
Remember, these were commercial publications. They were primarily designed to be sold as works of reference for local people and businesses, so the person compiling the trade directory would try hard to include all the important people in every place in the listing. They would also try to sell advertising space to all local businesses. That is why trade directories are so useful to historians...