The Gieve family were Huguenots who had migrated west and settled in the area around Exeter in Devon. The male line has been traced back to Jonathan Gieve who was probably born around 1700, his son George who was married in 1772 to Sarah Richards and his grandson John (1787-1849) who married Elizabeth (1789-1857, nee Elliott) on 7th July 1811. John and Elizabeth, then living at Chulmleigh, Devon, had 12 children baptised between 1813 and 1836 of which 4 died in infancy. On each of the baptismal records John Gieve's occupation is given as cordwainer, a maker of luxury shoes from fine Spanish leather.
Today, Chulmleigh seems an unlikely location for such a skilled artisan, but it has not always been as isolated. A local resident has described the town as being "located on what was the main highway between Exeter in the south and Barnstaple in the north, both of which were thriving ports ... and Chulmleigh would have been a convenient half-way overnight stop on the main coaching road. Old coaching inns still exist along this route. The town was also an intersection for an important west to east route, and with regular markets for trading it was an important centre in the county. The annual fair lasted four days, and it is still celebrated every year. The town grew and prospered on the wool trade, and associated cottage industries, and the population reached its peak in 1851.
"Add to this the fact that many of the Huguenots were involved in the clothing industry, and having been driven from France by religious persecution, the West Country with its traditions of non-conformity and religious independence, might have seemed a good place to settle." John Gieve was therefore in an industrially vibrant place and must have had excellent contacts with influential clients as well as ready access to markets outside Devon.
His contacts enabled John Gieve to set several of his children on paths that would lead them to excellence in their chosen trades, many of which were in the clothing industries. For instance, his eldest child Elizabeth, born 1812, became a milliner and dress maker in London, by appointment to Queen Victoria; she was working and living in Hanover Square, London at the time of the 1851 Census, with her brother Thomas, born 1827, in the household, working as a Clerk to a Glove Maker. Two of her assistants had come with her from Chulmleigh.
The fourth child of John and Elizabeth was born in 1820 (baptised on 28 July 1820) and was named James Watson Gieve. As with the other children nothing is known of his early life but at the age of 15 James was, according to some accounts, working for the Portsmouth based tailoring business run by Augustus Meredith (1797-1876), son of 'Old Mel' (Melchizedek) Meredith (1763-1814) and father of the novelist George Meredith. It seems likely that John Gieve was able to secure this position for his son on the basis that he was supplying Meredith with the fine shoes that accompanied the naval uniforms they made. Old Mel had first opened a tailors shop at 73 High Street, Portsmouth in 1784 and at the peak of his success was supplying uniforms to the highest ranking officers in the navy, including Lord Nelson himself, who, it was said, was wearing a uniform made by Meredith when he was killed at Trafalgar.
'Old Mel', whilst being a highly accomplished tailor, was not a good businessman and at his death his debts were reputed to be in the region of £4000. At the age of just 17 years Augustus had to give up medical studies to take over the business, spending the next 24 years of his life trying to reduce the debts. In the end he gave up, sold the business to John Galt, a fellow tailor, and pursued the life of a gentleman in London.
During the period from 1835 to 1852 there is little documentary trace of James Gieve but the Gieve family archive has it on record that James received training at one of the banks in Portsmouth. If so it would have stood him in good stead in his later career. It would have also confirmed the impression given in the official history of the Gieves and Hawkes business that James was more interested in the commercial aspects of tailoring than the hands on work itself.
Whether it was as a tailor or a businessman we do not know but in 1852 Gieve secured a partnership with Joseph Galt, who had taken over the company from his father John, the new enterprise being re-named Galt & Gieve. The following two years of trading were successful but in 1854 the Crimean War broke out and as a consequence the majority of officers in both army and navy were posted away from Portsmouth and with them went the company's primary business. In an act of bold imagination Galt and Gieve fitted out a yacht as a tailoring establishment and sailed it out to the Crimea to continue trade. It is also possible that Gieve set up a temporary office in Malta to accommodate those officers in transit to and from the battlezone.
On his return from the Crimea James married Elizabeth Neale (1825-1858) with whom he had two sons, both dying before their second birthday. Elizabeth died in 1858 and the following year he married Emma Neale (1833-1919, nee Steer), a widow and Elizabeth's sister-in-law.
In the years following the Crimean War, Galt and Gieves went from strength to strength, cementing their status when in 1859 they re-located the business to No. 111 High Street, a far more advantageous position adjacent to the Governor's House and opposite the favourite haunt of Senior Naval Officers, the George Hotel. They began advertising for assistants in the Hampshire Telegraph which also reported that a design by Gieve had been accepted as the uniform for the Rifle Volunteer Movement in Portsmouth. Further adverts show that Gieve was very quick to offer replacements whenever Queen's Regulations changed the nature of officers uniforms; they also created a series of sea chests specifically designed to hold all the clothing and personal effects required by an officer at sea. Curiously some of the adverts were placed by Galt & Co. rather than Galt, Gieve and Co.
At the 1861 census, James Gieve is recorded as living at 111 High Street with his wife Emma (26), daughter Emma, known as Bessie, (1) and "son-in-law" John Neale (5). According to the Hampshire Telegraph a son was born to the couple in December 1861, and the following November a second daughter was born. In neither case were they named, but they would have been James (d. 1927) and Alice (d. 1865). Their son, Elliott (after James' mother) was born in 1866, but he died in December 1869 and a further son George was born in 1872 but again dying young in 1881.
The name of James Gieve crops up frequently in newspaper reports over the following years as he became a respected pillar of society, assuming in the process the role of JP. In 1887 James Gieve became sole owner of the company and re-named it Gieve & Co. but he did not live long afterwards, dying on 23rd March, 1888 aged 67 years. He is buried in Highland Road Cemetery, Southsea (West Central, Row 16, Grave 15). With him in the grave are his sons Elliot, d. 25th December 1869 aged 3 years and George, d. 5th October 1881 aged 9 years, wife Emma, d. 6th August 1919 aged 86 years, daughter Emma (Bessie), d. 18th October 1919 aged 59 years, and son John William Gieve, d. 7th April 1923 aged 67 years.
By the time of his death James Gieve would have known that his company was the premier tailoring business to the Navy, probably in the whole of Britain, but he may not have appreciated that it would survive him and continue to grow, under the direction of his sons John and James, until it occupied arguably the most prestigious shop in the entire country at No. 1 Savile Row, London, with members of the Royalty as regular clients, a position it has retained to this day.
In the 1881 Census there was a John Gieve who was a retired tailor/outfitter (aged 65) living in a house named 'Chulm Leigh' in Outram Road, Southsea. Given his age and the name of his house he must have been James' elder brother yet, despite his profession being listed as 'Tailor' his name does not crop up in any known documents associated with the company.
The children of John and Elizabeth Gieve of Chulmleigh were - Elizabeth, baptised 11 April 1812; John, baptised 27 Dec 1815; William, baptised 1 Mar 1818; James, baptised 28 Jul 1820; Abraham, baptised 6 Feb 1822; Thomas, baptised 27 Aug 1826; Sarah Ann, baptised 11 Dec 1831; Henry, baptised 17 Jan 1836.
There are two memorial plaques and one window dedicated to members of the Gieve family in the Lady Chapel at Portsmouth Cathedral (St. Thomas's).
"Gieves & Hawkes 1785-1985" by David W. Gieve
The Hampshire Telegraph (Various dates)
The Chulmleigh Baptismal Records (courtesy of Michael Mitchelmore)
Dictionary of National Biography
"The Industries of Portsmouth in 19C" by Ray Riley (Portsmouth Paper No. 25)
"Branded male: marketing to men" by Mark Tungate
Portsmouth Cemetery Office