How Many Pages in this Book? Take a Guess!

Today on Secret Library Leeds, to mark National Libraries Week and the publication of our new seasonal brochure, we are proud to announce our very first competition!

The competition is simple: guess the number of pages in what we believe is our longest single-volume book – a copy of the 1912 Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire. You can see some pictures of that directory, below – with some handily-placed props, such as pens and another book, that will hopefully give a sense of scale.

To make things slightly easier, we’re able to tell you that the other book you can see in some of these images – A History of Modern Leeds, ed., Derek Fraser – contains about 500 pages; while the Kelly’s Directory itself is 17cm in width.

To enter, please just e-mail our Local and Family History department at localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk with your guess. The nearest correct answer after the closing date of 3pm on Sunday the 14th of October will claim the prize of a FREE voucher (usually worth £35) entitling the bearer to 2-hours of 1-1 family history research with one of our Librarian team, along with up-to 10 print-outs of documents found, and a family history guidance leaflet.

As well as the images available here, there’ll also be a chance to see the book in person both before and after our Librarians deliver their eagerly-anticipated Lunchime Talk this coming Wednesday, during which they’ll offer a brief but illuminating tour through the history of the Central Library itself (see the poster below for further details).

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That 1912 Kelly’s Directory is just one in a large collection of such trade directories that the Local and Family History department holds – primarily for Leeds, but also covering the wider West Riding and Yorkshire region. You can find a complete list online.

Such directories are a goldmine of useful (and sometimes just fascinating) detail about the urban environment, especially through the 19th and early-to-mid-20th-centuries. The ‘classic’ directory usually includes an introductory section giving the history and geography of the place in question, before proceeding to its three main sections: an alphabetical listing of prominent people in business, commerce and trade; the same listing, but organised into the trades themselves; and, finally, a by-street listing of residents and businesses. That latter is especially useful when used alongside local maps of the period, allowing the researcher to trace the occupants of each building as it appears on the map (the scale of many historical maps is not sufficient to list usage of a building, meaning this feature is particularly illuminating.)

Interestingly, we’ve recently had a customer enquiring as to the general purpose behind trade directories (our customer was specifically interested in why such directories listed residents by street). So, we got in touch with Dr. Shane Ewen, of Leeds Beckett University, who kindly gave us the following background detail:

“…the earliest trade directories from the 1730s-80s organised residences by street (in fact, this mode pre-dates the occupational listings, which are more a product of the Industrial Revolution period).

There are various reasons for doing so:

  1. So that visitors to a town could call in on the person they were visiting.
  2. Status – only principal streets and residents were named at first, so it was a reflection of class.
  3. Streets were being named, and properties numbered, so this was part of a street ordering movement to bring rational design to growing towns and cities
  4. Local publishers were in the business of collecting information on their communities, the topography and environment, as well as the demographic composition. Later on, this could be used in targeted mail-outs and door-to-door selling.”

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Please visit the Local and Family History department to browse our wonderful selection of Trade Directories – they can all be found on the open shelves, but please ask staff at the counter if you’re not sure. Details of our opening times and location can be found on our webpage

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