Much information and enjoyment can be obtained from studying old town Directories which, In the case of Godmanchester , are available back in l799. They give a picture of changing life in the town, although they must be read with caution as they show some signs of having been prepared in haste and are not always reliable. Updating was not carried out regularly and an error, once committed, was sometimes repeated year after year. For example, all directories from l854 to l920 show Godmanchester as being in the Hundred of Leightonstone although we have always belonged to Toseland Hundred. In l876, Brown and Goodman, the well known firm of millers are listed as "tailors". A curious example arises in the l847 Post Office Directory. Faced with the problem of listing John Fields, who was the town pinder - the borough official whose job was to round up stray animals - the baffled compilers decided that he must be the landlord of the "Pindar" public house ! The same l847 directory shows the London & York Railway as serving Godmanchester although that line was not opened until three years later.
It is perhaps surprising that, up to l867, Godmanchester (with Huntingdon) returned two Members to Parliament. Equally surprising to us is that, up to l 924 we are described as being an "inland barge port" although by then the river trade had long vanished. A study of the Trades section of directories is rewarding. The l854 issue is a very full one but, even so, eleven bootmakers (one a woman),ei ght tailors , eight bakers , five butchers and four milliners do seem large numbers to serve a population of about 2300 - not to mention 23 public houses. The town always seemed to be well endowed with butchers, bootmakers and tailors. Way back in l830 there were three horse-collar makers, three blacksmiths, five butchers and nine bootmakers. Even in l876 there were still six butchers, two of them being women. On the other hand a fishmonger does not appear until l869 (Charles Okins). One early butcher was Miss Sarah Matson, listed from l 847 to l855. Miss Sophia Matson was a butcher from 1864 to 1898, her premises being on the Causeway where the hobbies gift shop now is .Yet another woman, Mrs Mary Ann White, appears as a butcher in l876, also on Causeway.
Women , in fact , figure quite largely in the trade of the town . Often they took over their husbands' business as widows. Thomas Skelton was an umbrella maker from l855 to l890 (Causeway) when his widow took over until l903: then we find Hezekiah Skelton till 1910, lastly, his widow right up till l920. Plainly there was a smart demand for umbrellas. Mrs E. Taylor took over as "Threshing machine owner" from her husband in l9l4. An earlier threshing machine owner was William Fox, East Street, in l864. Another enterprisi ng woman was Mrs Ann Allen who, as well as being postmistress after her husband, was a boot and shoe maker who, according to F. W. Bird, employed 10 to l2 people. Mrs Jane Croft continued her husband's hairdressing business in Post Street for some years after l85l. Their house stood next to the Queen Elizabeth School
(to be continued. . )