In the town of High Wycombe, in the late 1920s, there were
who were the best of friends.
They all worked in Queens Square as apprentices to their
Jack Luttman was training to be a butcher, his friend Eric George was
apprentice in the ironmongers (next door but one) and their best friend
Jack Peace worked in the tailors and outfitters opposite. Eric and Jack
Luttman were also cousins and Eric would later say "Jack was the
thing I had to a brother".
Being the heirs to their fathers’ businesses meant that they held a status above that of a lowly shop assistant and enjoyed certain privileges. These were job security, a thorough training and the opportunity to enjoy themselves in their free time.
Shop hours were long and the pressures to perform to their fathers' exacting standards were no doubt tedious for they had the family reputation to maintain. They were expected to work a six day week but, with luck, were allowed to enjoy half day closing on Wednesdays. All three boys would meet for lunch in one of the town's pubs, the Coach and Horses in Easton Street being a popular haunt. They were all members of a social group within the town called the IMPS. This group was best likened to a young conservative club with both men and women as members. The group would organise trips to the sea, swimming parties by the river and dances at the town hall - all with the express purpose of having fun, socialising and meeting members of the opposite sex.
Of course in the 1920s there was a level of social etiquette that had to be maintained and dances at the town hall required a tail coat and white gloves to be worn by the men, ballgowns by the women. It was a matter of necessity that you had an understanding of the rudiments of ballroom dancing and so classes were attended regularly or lessons were given by older brothers or sisters. The excitement of attending such events was overshadowed by the feelings of inadequacy if you could not remember your dance steps.
Although the three friends were able to walk to these social gatherings from home it was imperative that to enjoy yourself in the country you needed your own set of wheels. Motorbikes were particularly popular and most young men in their position had one. They would enjoy days out to the river and visits to friends and family in the countryside.
During the 1930s the three boys became much more serious in their efforts to find suitable girlfriends and began to have steady dates. However a motorbike was not considered appropriate transport if you were taking a girl out for the day so it was common to trade in your motorbike for a car as soon as you could afford to do so. These were the days when, to have any privacy at all away from friends and family, the back seat of a car became a much sought after imperative.
There were no driving tests in the the 1930s so you simply went along to the showroom, asked to sit in the car of your choice and were given a test drive. If the car met with your expectations you would buy it there and then and worry about how to drive it later.
Jack Peace recalled "I chose the car I wanted, the salesman asked if I had driven before and when I said 'no' offered to give me a quick introduction. After all of ten minutes the car was mine and I drove it home - all the way in first gear because I had yet to learn how to use the clutch."
Car journeys out of town became jolly occasions, the IMPS meeting up for picnics by the sea, walks by the coast and so on. There were, however, plenty of pleasures to be found nearer to home with visits to the cinema or to the theatre - and High Wycombe had both. There was also a roller skating rink and a public swimming pool. Amateur dramatics were also a very popular form of entertainment before the days of television and many young people joined drama and musical groups in order to make new friends. The three boys would meet up for 'musical entertainment' provided by themselves. Eric later recalled that "Jack Peace was a virtuoso on the musical submarine!"
These happy times, however, were to change in 1939 with the declaration of war. This was an opportunity for some young men to experience life away from the confines of shop work and Jack Peace seized the opportunity to join the RAF where he became a Pilot Officer and was posted to India. Eric George was posted first to the West Country and then to Italy. Jack Luttman, however, was needed by the Ministry of Food to organise meat rationing within the Wycombe area and thus he was to experience the effects of war on the home front.
Unlike many service men who found that they were out of work on their return from the war Jack Peace and Eric George were able to step back into the positions that they had held in their fathers' shops. But things were very different. Rationing was still a requirement until the early 1950s and coupons were required for nearly everything. The whole nature of supply and demand had changed from the pre-war days.
The three men now found that they were holding far greater responsibiities within their relevant businesses. Jack Peace was now a partner in the tailoring firm of Peace, Ballantyne and Goodwin Ltd (his father having died before the war), and Jack Luttman opened his own butchers shop in Flackwell Heath. All three friends married, went to each other's weddings and maintained regular contact. Ironically Jack Peace now lived in Flackwell Heath and travelled to work in High Wycombe while Jack Luttman still lived in High Wycombe but travelled to work in Flackwell Heath and they joked that perhaps they should swop houses or even families.
By the late1950s they were running well reputed businesses and the two Jacks were bringing up children and exchanging information about the best schools to send them to. All three men seemed to share the same customers and would regularly swop gossip on Wycombe eccentrics. In fact they were also good customers to each other - Eric was a regular visitor to Jack Peace's outfitters shop and often remarked that suits made by Mr Ballantyne (the head tailor) never seemed to wear out. The Peace family were regular shoppers at Jack Luttman's butchers and grocery store where they sold the tastiest of meat pies and Jack Luttman was a good customer of Jack Peace.
By the 1960s the two Jacks were sharing their concerns about disgruntled teenagers, and their wives were sharing their concerns about unpaid housework. By the early 1970s they were looking forward to retirement and seeing their offspring married and off their hands.
By the mid 1970s all three shops had ceased trading as family businesses. Eric's ironmongers was sold to make way for redevelopment, Jack Luttman's butchers and grocery store was taken over by new owners and Jack Peace's tailors and outfitters shop was sold to Milletts.
During all this time the three men remained in regular contact. Even when Jack Luttman moved to Kingsbridge in Devon, Eric George to St Austell in Cornwall and Jack Peace retired to his home in Flackwell Heath they met for holidays and wrote long letters to each other 'putting the world to rights'. When they died in the late 1980s and 1990s their wives remained in touch - still sharing their concerns about the housework and the 'children'.
By Sally Scagell nee Peace, daughter of John (Jack)
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