Directories by County
The known directories of each county, including the local town
Further references to available directories:
England and Wales, excluding London, to 1855: 'Guide to the National
and Provincial Directories of England and Wales excluding London, published
before 1856' by Jane E Norton. Published by the Royal Historical Society
in 1950 (Out of print, but second hand copies may sometimes be available
from book dealers).
England and Wales 1850-1950 and Scotland 1773-1950: 'British Directories
published in England and Wales (1850-1950) and Scotland (1773-1950)', by
Gareth Shaw and Allison Tipper. Second edition published in 1997. ISBN 0
7201 2329 1
London to 1855: 'The London Directories '1677-1855' by Charles W F
Goss, published in 1932. (Out of print, but second hand copies may sometimes
be available from book dealers).
London 1677-1977: 'The Directories of London, 1677-1977' by Peter
J Atkins, published in 1990. ISBN 0 7201 2063 2
Below are links to actual examples, scanned at high resolution to make them
easily readable. Unfortunately, some of these are quite large files, and
therefore take a little while to display on the internet - but they are worth
What's in a directory?
A geographical description of a county
Including its geology, soils, agriculture, industries, transport, etc.
The history of the county
Descriptions of the individual towns and villages
Including the amenities such as schools, churches, hospitals, work houses,
Lists of the inhabitants that have trades, and in most of the later directories
even street by street, house by house lists of all householders.
How old are directories?
There were some directories published in the late 1700s, but the first major
county directories were published from around 1820 onwards.
The 1791 Universal British Directory
Did people have to pay to be included in a directory?
No. It is a commonly held myth that they had to pay. The publishers
made their money by selling directories.
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. (Ironically, the 1791 Universal British Directory
does include some labourers). In any case, only the head of household was
listed in a directory, not wives or children, and not lodgers.
A late Kelly's Directory of 1938
Above: A renovated Pigot's directory of 1844. These books are incredibly
rare as complete volumes, as they have usually been split down into separate
county sections by book dealers.
What else can I get out of a directory?
Directories are a great start to going beyond a simple collection of names
and dates in your family history. Don't just look for the names of your own
family in the directories, but start looking at the background information
on the places in which they lived. Get a feel for the town or village, its
history, and what it was like during the period.
How did your family travel to the nearest town? The details are here. If
they wanted to send a parcel or goods by carrier, or post a letter, then
you will find out all there is to know. What local schools were there, and
who was the school teacher that taught your ancestors' children? Find out
about the neighbours, the shop keepers and tradesmen, and other related people
in the village.
A directory enables you to build up a detailed picture of real life at the
time. This is what family history is all about. You can literally reconstruct
their lives, with details of things happening around them in the place where
Directories are really gazetteers and trade directories. They contain an
immense amount of information about towns and villages, their facilities
in the year of the directory, their history, and lists of all people in each
who have trades.
Not just businesses and shops - common ordinary people such as gardeners,
blacksmiths, seamstresses, dress makers, chimney sweeps, etc.
Directories began in the late 1700s, were common in the 1800s, and continuing
into the 1900s.
Some additional notes:
Maps were originally included in most directories, however, few of the original
books still contain these maps. They have been removed for sale to map
Directories can be purchased, but they are simply not the sort of thing that
you can go out shopping for. They are very rare. An old Kelly's county directory
from 1845 to 1920 will cost between £100 and £150, and for London,
Yorkshire or Lancashire considerably more, up to around £300 to £400.
A White's directory will set you back anything from £130 to £250
depending on condition. Pigot's Directories were originally published in
volumes containing a group of counties, but book dealers usually split them
down into individual county parts and sell them for about £50. To find
a complete original volume is virtually impossible, and on the rare occasions
that they come on the market, they can fetch between £500 for one in
the poorest condition, up to £950 for one in good condition. Thankfully,
a great number of them are now available in facsimile on CD.
The directories were compiled by surveyors knocking on doors to gather
information. In the early directories, people were eligible to be included
if they had a trade (dress maker, chimney sweep, butcher, shop keeper, etc.
Gentry and clergy were also included in the early directories. (Farmers were
not included in most of the Pigot's directories).
Later directories were in three sections:
County listing of places (with descriptions, facilities and history) and
people with trades in each place.
Court Directory. (private residents, but not all)
Classified Trade Directory
The "Court Directory" section became the place where ordinary private residents
were listed. Later, the section was renamed "Private Residents".
London directories were the first to have house by house, street by street
listings of householders. (Even those without recognised trades). This
feature was gradually introduced in most other counties, but only for the
main towns. Some counties, e.g. Essex, never had street directories.
People living in apartments would not be included in a directory, only the
Directories had two purposes
For people to find those with trades, just like the yellow pages of today.
For travelling salesmen as a reference source for sales leads.
Above: Part of a Pigot's directory.
A scanned image from an original book of 1830.
A restored 1832 William White's Directory of Nottinghamshire - full
Above: A delightful London directory - The 1833 Royal Blue Book. An
excellent street directory of central London.Note how the listing of people
is laid out, with every address in a crescent shaped road.