The company dates its origins to 1785 when, at the age of 24, Melchisedek Meredith opened his tailoring business in the High Street, Portsmouth at No. 73. [ image 1 ].
The High Street had at that date a thriving selection of shops, including several mercers [merchants dealing in textiles], hatters, glovers and shoemakers.
Interestingly, there are no tailors or outfitters recorded in the Hampshire Directory for the previous year,1784, which might signify that Meredith was the first tailor/outfitter to open up in the High Street.
Before then, tailors and outfitters had presumably confined themselves to The Hard at Portsea.
Known as Old Mel, Meredith became well established with the naval hierarchy, providing officers’ uniforms in accordance with the requisitions laid down by Lord Anson under George II in 1748.
It is generally assumed that it was a Meredith uniform that Lord Viscount Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar and that Meredith kitted out other notable naval officers, e.g. Admiral Lord Cunningham, Captain William Bligh of the Bounty as well as Nelson’s friend Hardy.
In fact, Hardy took rooms above Meredith’s shop in Portsmouth which might rather endorse the connection.
Also, it is known that the actor Charles Laughton was able to visit Gieves at 21, Old Bond Street in the 1930s to research the uniform of Captain Bligh for his celebrated role in the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty in which he played opposite Clark Gable’s Fletcher Christian – the archive material being subsequently lost during the Blitz of September 1940.
There were other naval tailors at the time in Portsmouth who eventually became associated with or, rather, subsumed into what became Gieves, although much of the detail still remains conjectural.
Joseph Galt at 63 High Street, Portsmouth, was the successor of the Meredith business which he acquired from Meredith’s wife and son, Augustus, in the 1830s.
Pigot’s Directory records that, by 1842, he was trading at 73, High Street and also had a shoe and boot shop at No. 107.
Galt entered into a partnership in 1852 with the first James Gieve [ image 2 ], who was in fact the first Gieve family member in the business.
It was this partnership, styled Galt and Gieve, which notably and patriotically sailed into the Crimean War in the 1850s a yacht kitted out as a tailoring workshop.
The partnership , having relocated in 1859 to 111, High Street, Portsmouth,[ image 3 ] and by then styled Galt, Gieve & Co., was dissolved in 1887 on the death of Joseph Galt whereupon James Gieve became the sole owner of the business.
Some fifty years later, in about 1904, Charles Matthews took over Gieves, the company then being known as Gieve, Matthews and Seagrove.
Charles Matthews’ father, Henry Matthews, a naval and military outfitter at 66, Queen’s Street, had already acquired before then two other naval tailors in Portsmouth :
Seagrove & Co., naval outfitters and sword cutlers at 22/23, The Common Hard [ image 4 ], as well as, at an earlier date, Messrs. Fraser & Davis, naval tailors at 78/81, High Street.
William Seagrove’s business had been established in about 1816 or earlier and he had also held a royal warrant to Queen Victoria as naval and military outfitter, as mentioned in Harrods 1865 traders directory for Portsmouth.
Fraser & Davis, who were sword cutlers and hatters as well as naval tailors, occupied a double fronted shop on the High Street, photographed in 1880 [ image 5 ].
Thus the firm of Gieve, Matthews and Seagrove established in about 1904 was in fact an amalgam of naval tailors, hatters and sword cutlers, comprising Melchisedek Meredith, Joseph Galt, J. Gieve & Sons, Seagrove & Co., Fraser & Davis and H.G.Matthews.
And it was on the site of the original Seagrove business at 22/23 The Hard that, in 1909, Gieve, Matthew & Seagrove opened a brand new premises.[ image 6 ].
Thereafter, from about 1912, the company became increasingly known as Gieve or Gieves and was styled as such on letter headings and shop fronts.
1 The High Street, Portsmouth, early 19th. century
2 James Gieve, the first Gieve in the business
3 The Gieves shop at 111, The High Street, Portsmouth in about 1896
4 Seagrove & Co.Ltd. label from between 1892 and 1903
5 Fraser & Davis at 78/79 High Street, Portsmouth,in 1890
6 Gieve, Matthews and Seagrove at 22/23 The Hard, Portsea in 1909