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
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 25p per photo (see our fees and charges).
However, the Hull History Centre does not hold a trade directory
for Hull for every year between 1781 and 1968 on the open access
Some of the directories also cover a wider geographical area
such as Hull and Yorkshire or Hull and Lincolnshire.
The extent of detail varies in the trade directories available
before1823 and the directories before 1823 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
comprehensible 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information within the directory could already be out of date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.
Those trade directories 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.
The historical trade
directories website includes some covering
Hull and Yorkshire. The directories on the website range from 1750
to 1919 and may be searched by location, decade or keyword.
Trade directories were eventually superseded by telephone
What are they good for?
- Locating terraces – often used in conjunction with census
and OS maps to find an address
- Business – the development of particular trades within the
- 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 etc. e.g. labourers and servants
won’t be listed in a directory