Trade Directories

It seems remarkable that an obscure local history blog should have now received more than 10,000 hits in less than two years. I’m very grateful but it really illustrates the huge interest there is in the history of families and small communities. Long may this flourish. No readers interested in family or local history will need to have the value of trade directories explained to them. From the late eighteenth century to the twentieth, commercial county & city directories and gazetteers were regularly prepared. They attempted to list all the businesses, and tradesmen or women, in a particular city or town. They also provided a general guide to the postal addresses of local landowners, MPs, ministers of religion, civic institutions, charities, and so forth. Brief accounts of local history and geography were appended, and where appropriate there was often a map, although these these had normally long vanished by the time I started my directory studies.

The most famous name must be ‘Kelly’s Directories’ which are Victorian in origin but were still functioning in my childhood. They subsumed the ‘Post Office Directories’ which were also common in the nineteenth century. White’s, Pigot’s and Ibbetson’s were publishers providing a similar service. Most libraries with a local history section will keep a collection of directories, Bradford Local Studies library certainly does. They may be in poor condition since they receive quite hard use from scholars, although some have been copied or reprinted. The University of Leicester provided a most valuable service by making many of them available on line:

There are a number of ways of employing directories. You might be interested only in the occupation or address of a single ancestor in a single year. Alternatively you may wish to follow the development of a place or a trade through the decades using a series of directories. When I was studying the Bradford brick industry I employed no less than 26 directories from the years 1792-1958. For the purpose of this blog I am looking at a single example. I’ve picked the 1854 ‘White’s Leeds, Bradford & Yorkshire Clothing District’ directory since it has been both republished and is available on-line, should you wish to consult it.

In 1854 Rev. Patrick Bronte was still the incumbent at Haworth Parish Church but his whole family were dead, except Charlotte who herself had less than a year of life left. Here in my township of Heaton the non-conformist tradition was strong; chapels of the Baptists and Methodists had been founded in the eighteenth century. However members of the Church of England among its 1637 inhabitants had no parish church, Bradford or Shipley being the nearest centres of Anglican worship. St Barnabas Church, Heaton, was finally built ten years later on land provided by a local landowner, the Earl of Rosse. The Earl was Lord of the Manor but actually lived at Birr Castle in Ireland; Timothy Stocks was his local land agent. The directory informs me that Henry Harris, a Quaker banker, leased the manor house – Heaton Hall. Harris was single but, in a sign of the times, needed the services of a butler, housekeeper, cook and two resident maidservants. None of these servants feature in the directory but they can be located in the census returns for 1851. In fact local people thought very highly of Harris because he generously donated blankets, bread and soup to all those in difficulties.

Heaton in 1854 provided the tradespeople necessary for a small semi-rural community. Two blacksmiths, two butchers, three joiners, three shoemakers, three tailors, a plumber & glazier, and a school master. Surprisingly William Firth is a maltster. It is hard to think of Heaton today as a centre for arable farming. Malt is made by allowing barley seeds to germinate and then drying the result in a malt kiln. The resulting malt was the essential ingredient in beer brewing. Of the three public houses mentioned in 1854: The Black Swan, The Hare & Hounds, and the Kings Arms, only the first two are currently in operation. The one unusual facility Heaton possessed was the Woolsorters’ Gardens & Baths at Paddock, which was where Heaton Grove is today. The gardens were created in the 1840s for the cultivation of vegetables, the sale of plants, and as a place of public open-air entertainment. In addition the Woolsorters built public baths, tea rooms, and lawns on a 9 acre site. There were even a series of ornamental ponds ascending the hillside and open-air pools for swimming and diving. Sadly the Woolsorters’ Gardens never really recovered from storm damage in this same year of 1854, and they closed altogether in 1865.

Nearby Shipley had about twice as many inhabitants as Heaton and was already noted following the opening of Salt’s Mill and Saltaire by Sir Titus Salt the year before. Shipley had had a gas-works and a railway station since 1846, also three schools, and a mechanics institute. It was the nearest place for Heaton residents to buy a watch or a book, have their cut professionally, be fitted for stays, obtain medicines, or instruct a solicitor. In Shipley the 1854 directory gives you a better impression of the industrial base of the community. There are wool-staplers, millwrights, coal owners, lime and timber merchants, nail makers and an iron founder. It is surprising also to find a boat builder but of course the boats built were barges for the Leeds & Liverpool Canal which runs through the town.

There are no maltsters in Shipley but it has two corn millers, which reminds me that if you planned to bake in 1854 you couldn’t visit a supermarket for a kilo of self-raising flour. Dixon Mill was water powered and had been present from the seventeenth century, approximately at the end of Victoria Street where the NHS District Trust HQ is now. Towards the end of its life in 1850 it undertook both corn grinding and cloth fulling. I thought it had closed when Saltaire was created but the directory places John Knowles, corn-miller, there in 1854. I think he must have been milling on borrowed time.

A train service from Shipley into the then borough of Bradford had been in existence since 1846. If you journeyed into the borough what additional trades could you find? Well, for a start, you could buy a gun or have your portrait painted by one of the five resident artists. One, James Lobley, 1828-88, worked at Bradford School of Art and was quite well known, but not famous enough for the directory to spell his name correctly. His work is still on display in the city. Isaac Falkner Bird is another with a name that remains slightly familiar. Indicative of the rapid growth of Bradford are the present of no less than thirteen firms of architects. One of these, Lockwood & Mawson, had been responsible for St George’s Concert Hall, completed the previous year. The same year saw the opening of Peel Park a noted place of public exercise for Bradfordians. The directory can be misleading. Antonio Fattorini was a goldsmith and jeweller who started a business that still endures, although sadly not in Bradford. To include him under the title of ‘Fancy Repository’ is rather strange.

In 1854 there were dozens of auctioneers, attorneys and bankers in Bradford but there were only three public baths which is odd when you reflect that back to backs didn’t come fitted with showers. The outer man may have been dishevelled but the inner man was catered for by eight brewers and innumerable public houses, beer houses and hotels. No less than four individuals could make a living brewing ginger beer. I am surprised that the trades of ‘butter factor’ and ‘tea dealers’ existed distinct from that of grocer. As well many shoemakers about forty people made clogs and pattens, and two produced ‘cork legs’. The fact that there were only three opticians must have entailed a great many uncorrected refractive errors among the townspeople. To continue the clothing connection there were hat-makers, straw-hat makers (over 30 of them), stay-makers, milliners, and dressmakers.

Bradford was a great industrial centre on the verge of its most affluent period, affluence that was generally restricted to those with enough capital to dig coal mines, make bricks, undertake substantial construction projects, smelt iron, or spin & weave textiles. As an illustration of this the directory lists only twelve woolcombers. Woolcombing was an essential part of the worsted process and I explained the details in my previous blog. By coincidence 1854 was the year in which James Noble inventor (or as I believe one of the two identically named inventors) of the most widely used mechanical woolcomb died. Whoever their inventors, mechanical woolcombs were proving a commercial success, and in the 1850s rapidly displaced hand woolcombing. Using Eric Sigsworth’s words ‘In three years at Black Dyke Mills (1852-53) hand-combing flourished, languished and died’. In the 1830s Bradford had housed tens of thousands of hand combers. The 1854 directory is a mute witness to the total destruction of this trade.


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