There is little doubt that the name that everyone associates with trade directories is Kelly.
Frederic Festus Kelly was originally a very senior employee in the Post Office. When he became Inspector of Letter Carriers in 1835-6, one of the responsibilities within his remit was the production of the Post Office Directory. This had been started quite some years before in 1799 and managed under the auspices of two earlier Inspectors of Letter Carriers, Messrs Sparke & Ferguson. These men were superseded by one Benjamin Critchett also an Inspector of Letter Carriers. Critchett died in 1836 and Kelly took over from him.
Because of what would be an extremely unusual arrangement today, the directory was effectively run as a private enterprise and as an adjunct to the Post Office’s normal operation. This meant that the intellectual property rights lay with Critchett. Kelly therefore had to negotiate to purchase the copyright to the directory from Crichett’s widow
The status of the directory caused much annoyance with competitors who saw it as a grossly unfair advantage, given the Post Office was supplying the data plus the labour to both gather the information and to market ithe directories, whilst appearing to fully endorse the products. These days it would be seen as an anti-competitive Restrictive Trade Practice.
In fact there was much uproar. Between 1845 and 1847 it was a frequent subject for debate in the House of Commons where “the maladministration of the affairs of the general Post Office” were brought into question and “the said Mr Kelly was frequently referred to in an extremely unfavourable way”.
He was criticised for his abuse of power and in 1847 even Charles Wood, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer became embroiled in a heated exchange stating that Kelly must not use public servants for his own private benefit.
What few realised at that time is that in 1844, Kelly had already engaged in discrete recruitment of staff for his independent company. Soon after this Kelly left the Post Office and ran the new company with family members. What was both interesting and amusing is that because he owned the copyright of the directory he continued to use the ‘Post Office Directory’ name for quite some time. The company name remained “Kelly & Co” until 1897 when it was superseded by a new company “Kelly’s Directories Limited”.
It was certainly true that he was a very competitive person, to the extent that he made every effort to buy-out all companies engaged in the same or similar work.
The Kelly company exists to this day and we are very pleased to have their kind permission to reproduce their directories.