James Watson Gieve was the fourth child of John and Elizabeth Gieve of Chumleigh in Devon and was born in 1820 (baptised on 28 July 1820). 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' (Melchizidec) Meredith (1763-1814) and father of the novelist George Meredith. Old Mel had first opened a tailors shop at 73 High Street, Portsmouth in 1875 and at the peak of his success was supplying uniforms to the highest ranking officers in the navy, including Lord Nelson himself, who 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.
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 so Galt and Gieve fitted out a yacht as a tailoring establishment and sailed it out to the Crimea to continue trade.
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.
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 (West Central, Row 16, Grave 15). With him in the grave are his son Elliot Gieve, d. 25th December 1869 aged 3 years, son George Gieve, d. 5th October 1881 aged 9 years, wife Emma Gieve, d. 6th August 1919 aged 86 years, daughter Emma Gieve, d. 18th October 1919 aged 59 years, and son John William Gieve, d. 7th April 1923 aged 67 years.
There are three memorials to the Gieve family in Portsmouth Cathedral. An extended version of this biography can be found at the History in Portsmouth website.