How to find out which local trades and industries once thrived in your town or village: #StoryOfOurStreet blog


06 August 2020
In the latest #StoryOfOurStreet blog we take a look at what clues on your street and further afield can point you in the direction of the trades and industries our ancestors would have known.

#StoryOfOurStreet is a local history project that you can join in with from anywhere in the world. Visit our hub page to see the challenges so far, read our top tips and download your research kit.

Discover bygone local industries

Read on to discover how clues on your street, online and in local record offices can help you find out a wealth of information on the principal trades that once thrived in your area. 

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Look at old buildings for clues

Explore your street and the surrounding area for clues. These could range from the obvious – such as on old flour mill or a blacksmith’s anvil – to more subtle clues such as hook above a doorway (perhaps used to haul sacks onto the upper floor) or a three-storey dwelling (sometimes indicating that the upper floor was used by the family for weaving). 

These initial clues, combined with the points below, should allow you to fine-tune your research and decide where to look next.

Street and house names

Even modern areas can yield clues in terms of street and house names, with such places often named after old trades, even on new-build estates. If you think you’ve found such a clue, get hold of old maps of the local area and you might find evidence of a farm, mill, workshop or shop that point to an earlier use of the area.

The location

Your location is often a big clue when it comes to local trades and industries. A harbour town is sure to have had a fishing industry (and associated trades) and if you live in a region known for textiles or mining, for example, local museums may have examples of items used in these trades, and perhaps even photos of craftspeople at work.

Even within the last century, a number of trades have died out as the world has changed – people like blacksmiths, chimney sweeps, farriers, weavers and thatchers now possess rare skills that once would have been fairly commonplace. As you build up more knowledge of the area, you can turn to written records for more help, as the next tips show.

The census and street directories

The census and street directories (see our advice here) will give you precise information on the jobs carried out by men and women on your street and surrounding roads, with street directories listing the various shops and services that our ancestors could access. You might be surprised by the number of services townspeople could access, such as chandler, silversmith, draper, grocer and many more. Street directories usually have details of how often a market was held, the regularity of public transport and even how often the mail was collected!

Online resources

In Scotland, Canmore and Scran have comprehensive online records of buildings and also try the Historic Environment National Record here whilst for the rest of the UK, whilst the Historic England Pastscape website (no longer updated but still very useful) has plenty of information on landscapes, buildings and sites of local interest.

For film collections showing craftspeople at work, try Scottish Screen Archive and the British Film Industry archive

For lots more research advice, checklists and record sheets, download the #StoryOfOurStreet research kit today for just £1.99 (£0.99 for Family Tree subscribers). Click here.