Trade directories


Trade directories provide detailed information about local communities and their inhabitants. They were compiled and published more frequently than the census and, as such, can be an invaluable source of information. Trade directories also pre-date the first census to record names (1841).

Trade directories will often include information such as descriptions of a specific locality, incorporating, for example, a brief history, population statistics, geographical and trade information as well as details about local institutions and facilities and advertisements alongside the listings for traders and professionals.

The trade directories available at the Hull History Centre range from the year 1781 to 1968 and are readily accessible on shelves in the searchroom. Some of the directories are originals and some are bound photocopies. Only those that are already copies can be photocopied, but you may take photographs on your own camera at a cost of 30p per photo (see details about our copying service).

However, the Hull History Centre does not hold a trade directory for Hull for every year between 1781 and 1968 on the open access shelves.

Some of the directories also cover a wider geographical area such as Hull and Yorkshire or Hull and Lincolnshire.

Before 1823

The extent of detail varies in the trade directories available before 1823, and these directories only listed trades and gentry. Some contain only an alphabetical list of names (by surname) and an accompanying occupation or trade. Others may also provide a street or address for each person named and contain extra information such as the names and residences of MPs, the times of quarter-sessions, a list of governors of workhouses and the times of boats leaving Hull. Similar extra information can also be found in the directories after 1823.

Trade directories are a useful primary source available for this period. However, these early directories are not necessarily comprehensive since the fee charged to be included in the directory put many people off, and thus the directories are an incomplete view of a community. By the time of printing the information within the directory could already be out of date, whilst printing errors and variations in spelling from directory to directory can also reduce accuracy.

After 1823

Trade directories produced after 1823 are generally more detailed, containing the addresses of people listed rather than just the street where they or their trade were based. The directories also provide lists by name, by street and by profession or trade making them much more accessible and useful as a research tool. These later directories are also more likely to contain advertisements for particular companies or businesses. Trade directories were eventually superseded by telephone directories.

What are they good for?

  • Locating terraces – use them in conjunction with census and OS maps to find an address
  • Business – the development of particular trades within an area
  • Show development of street – e.g. increase of houses/buildings over the years
  • History of a building in terms of its occupants
  • Can trace individuals and businesses more easily from property to property than in the census
  • Can show women as heads of households.

What are they not good for?

  • Will not give a complete view of the household, just the head of the household if listed
  • Not as complete as the census as some people, such as labourers and servants, won’t be listed in a directory.