Trade and Commercial Directories


Trade and commercial directories were first produced in the 17th century but were mainly published from the 19th century onwards. Initially, most directories were produced locally by independent publishers, but by the late 19th century production had become dominated by several large companies.  Directories usually list the heads of households by trade and by parish.  Some directories also list the occupants of properties street by street within major towns, such as Warwick, Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon.   They often contain interesting news items and articles about local towns.  Alongside commercial directories, there are also some which list private residents. The main directories for Warwickshire include Pigot's (1822-1841), Kelly's (1854-1940), Spennell's / Kelly's Street Directories (1880-1974), West's (1830) and White's (1850 & 1874) directories.

Figure 5: Kelly's Directory 1884

Reproduced with kind permission from Warwickshire Library and Information Services

Click here for larger image


Trade directories are useful for finding information on industry and trade within an area during a particular period.  They are also useful for tracing settlement changes, such as the commercial or industrial usage of particular areas of a town.  Directories are good for finding information on a particular type of trade or industry.  However, when used in conjunction with other sources, such as maps, photographs, census returns, electoral registers and the Historic Environment Record, they can be used for researching local and family histories.  It is also worth bearing in mind that directories do not cover all locations for all periods.  When using directories it is important to be aware that properties were included only if the owners/residents were willing to pay for the privilege. Hence if a property was rented, empty or the owners did not wish to subscribe to the directory it would not be included.  The directories were also out of date by the time they were published because of the time delay between collecting information and publication, so they may not always be accurate.  To find out more about trade directories, Shaw and Tipper's British Directories provides lists of all the directories published for particular areas and is a useful guide to using trade directories.

Where to find this source:

  • Local Libraries
  • County Record Office
  • British Library Collections
  • Limited availability on the Internet