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Trade Directories

Birmingham Archives and Heritage is now CLOSED until 3 September 2013 when the Library of Birmingham on Centenary Square will open.

Staff are working on our collections to check, document and repackage thousands of items ready for their transfer to the new building during this time. This work will be our major task and consequently we are not able to respond individually to enquiries until after September 2013.

However, if you are specifically requesting personal information held about yourself, a member of staff will contact you to discuss this further:

Email: archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk

For all other enquiries, please contact us again once we open in the new Library of Birmingham.

We regret the inconvenience this is likely to cause to our users. A new Library of Birmingham website will be launched soon. Details of the services we will be providing from September will appear in due course as well as contact details for the new Library.

Meanwhile to keep in touch with us, please follow our blog at: http://theironroom.wordpress.com/ and to follow the progress of the new library please see: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/lob


Trade directories from around 1800 to the 1970s were similar to phone books, many of them listing people by both trade and surname. From the 1860s onwards many give addresses of private residents - householders not in the commercial section. They may help trace the address of a family, when you know only the name. This then enables you to use other material, such as electoral registers and censuses.

Directories are currently being digitised as part of a project based at the University of Leicester.
See Digital Library of Historical Directories for details.

What do trade directories show?

They were produced by several companies, most importantly Kelly's. The arrangement and information included varies according to the date and company. They show names, addresses and the nature of business. These may be indexed in various ways.

Most Include:

  • tradespeople listed in alphabetical order of surname.
  • tradespeople listed under individual trades.
  • a brief history of the area.
  • adverts for some businesses.

Many include:

  • an alphabetical list of streets, with householders and businesses listed according to house-number.
  • a list of private residents, described as 'court' in earlier directories.
  • details of conveyances; coaches, trains, canal-boats.
  • a map, or a list of streets
  • lists of and information about public institutions,
  • public buildings, and charities.

Trade directories in Archives and Heritage

There is an extensive collection in the Archives and Heritage Service.

Areas covered

We hold trade directories for many towns and areas in the British Isles. They are one of the few sources here for tracing families in Scotland and Ireland.

Dates covered

Most trade directories started in the nineteenth century. Kelly's County directories came to an end in the 1940s. Most town directories ended during the 1970s. The most extensive coverage in the Archives and Heritage Service is of Birmingham - the earliest directory is for 1767, the last for 1974. The dates covered for other areas varies. There is a directory for Dublin, and one for Glasgow dated 1846. There is also good coverage for Ireland and Scotland from the 1890s to the 1970s.

Limitations and inaccuracies

  • trade directories show only the owner of the business, or the head of household.
  • new businesses do not always appear immediately
  • the surveyor might leave streets or residents out, or copy old lists for a new edition.
  • people renting rather than owning a property were not usually listed.
  • private residents might choose not to be listed.

Industrial directories

The Archives and Heritage Service has Ryland's directories for iron, steel and allied trades from 1881 - 1991.

Some of the Victorian trade directories include a guide to the town and a brief history. Some also included maps. In most cases these have been removed and are now stored with the map collection in the stack. Please ask staff if you wish to consult these.

Telephone Books


Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Kidderminster. The phone system was being set up in 1886. Many businesses are listed in Birmingham, but only 27 private residents had telephones at that time.

1906 - 07

Midlands and North Wales.


Birmingham, Solihull, Coleshill, North Worcestershire.

1930 onwards

A continuous sequence, initially for Birmingham and a wider area, including Worcestershire, the Black Country, South Staffordshire and North Warwickshire.

1968 onwards

Residential and classified directories are printed in separate volumes. Residential numbers listed are principally for Birmingham.

1969 onwards

Classified (trade) directories are described as 'Yellow Pages'.

1983 onwards

Trade numbers listed are principally for Birmingham.

Archives and Heritage Service
Tel: 0121 303 4217 or 0121 303 4549 or 0121 303 4220
Fax: 0121 233 4458
Email: archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk

Parish Registers - Church of England
Black Family History - African & African-Caribbean
Electoral Registers
International Genealogical Index (IGI)
GRO Indexes
CD-ROMs & the Internet for family history