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Trade directories listing tradespeople and wealthier residents were first published in the later 18th century. After 1850 they became larger, more frequent and more useful publications. They can be broadly classed into two types: the county or regional directory and the town or street directory.
They were compiled by canvassers and can contain much error. Sometimes information is simply reprinted from a previous edition without checking the currency of the data.
Regional and County Directories
The regional directories cover a number of counties such as Kelly's Post Office Directory of Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. (London, 1855). The county directories cover only one county such as Melville and Co.'s Directory & Gazetteer of Sussex, containing Brighton, Hastings ... (1858, London: Melville & Co.).
The regional and county directories typically have an introductory essay on the geography, history, climate, major industries etc of the county followed by an entry for each town and village with the prominent residents and landholders noted and a list of traders and businessmen probably accounting for about 5% of the population. There are usually also lists of traders grouped by their trade with numerous advertisements.
Town or Street Directories
Town or street directories contain more details and their lists probably account for around 10% of the population. This is achieved by a section which lists the heads of household, street by street. Typically subtenants are not listed so many working class families are overlooked. Smaller cottages on the outskirts of towns are also rarely listed so that a gamekeeper might be listed in connection with his estate but most agricultural labourers will not be listed.
University of Leicester Project
The National Lottery has funded the University of Leicester Historical Directories Project: a digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919.
- 1832-1834, 1839, 1851, 1854, 1855, 1858, 1859, 1866, 1878, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1899, 1905, 1911, 1914-1915
- J. H. Farrant,, Sussex directories 1784-1940, Sussex Genealogical Centre Occasional Papers No.6 (3rd ed., Brighton, 1980). This lists about 850 distinct directories relating to Sussex, with the libraries where copies are held.
- G. Shaw, and A. Tipper, British directories: a bibliography and guide to directories published in England and Wales (1850-1950) and Scotland (1773-1950) (1988).