It's always a delight to discover a website that quietly and efficiently provides a mass of information that someone - like me - with more time than direction would find absolutely fascinating. Thus I rejoiced the other day when I discovered a project run by Leicester University and funded by the Lottery Fund which seeks to make local historical trade directories available on the web. Historical Directories is a digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919 which contains high quality reproductions of comparatively rare books: the essential tools for research into local and genealogical history.
Looking for something to test the service out with I tried early twentieth century Bradford and found the 1912 Post Office Directory for Bradford and district. The full text of the Directory is available on the Historical Directories website, and access is free of charge. The detail is wonderful and provides a splendid insight into a northern city in the period just before the First War. All you need to look at is the occupations of the residents of the City. Take this extract which covers Bowling Old Lane between its junctions with St Stephen's Road and Newton Street.
212 Goodhall, W. warp sizer
214 Woodhead, Mrs Delilah
216 Wood, Joseph, milliner
218 Hunt, Mrs B. herbalist
220 Hardy, Herbert, tailor
224 Carter, James, broker
226 Wainwright, Mrs S. E. confectioner
228 Old Lane House, G. F. Wraith
244 - 248 Prince of Wales, A Cowling
250 Burnett, Israel, butcher
258 Broadbent, George H. chemist
260 Chippendale, William, grocer
262 Wroe, Joe, newsagent
264 Kitson, O. hairdresser
274 Hainsworth, J. joiner
276 Sunderland, S. chimney sweep
282 Thornton, Peter, bootmaker
290 Bolton, Joe, commercial traveller
292 Thornton, Abraham.
294 Thornton, Daniel
There are so many things to notice : the number of shops, the range of trades, the names. The thing that drew my attention to Bowling Old Lane was, of course, the presence of a Burnett (being a digital resource, you can search the database by keyword), and sure enough the shop at 250 was the butchers' shop of my fathers' Uncle Israel. Being somewhat fond of pubs, my attention quickly drifted to the premises next door which was the Prince of Wales Pub. The landlord is listed as being A Cowling, and this must be Albert Cowling who was well known in the Bradford area as both a landlord of several pubs and as a keen supporter of the temperance movement. On his death in 1952, Albert left the sum of £100 from the profits he had made from selling beer and whisky to fund two annual sermons at the local church on the evils of alcohol. With this level of hypocrisy, it came as no great surprise to discover that Albert represented the Bowling Ward on the local authority as a Conservative Councillor.
The Historical Directories website is a fantastic resource. However, if you check out the "News" pages on the website you discover that the project ran out of funding in October 2004. The announcement says that the site will remain available for a further three years, but that takes us up to earlier this year. The danger that such a resource is removed is indeed sad. It needs more funding. Perhaps Albert Cowling's £100 could be put to better use.