James George Peace, resident of Castle Hill at the latter end of the nineteenth century, was born in Stevenage in 1838 to Samuel William Francis Peace, a London solicitor, and Elizabeth (née Williams) from Shifford/Bampton, Oxfordshire. He was the fifth and last child to arrive. His father died the same year and his mother remarried about four years later. This left the family in impoverished circumstances. When he was old enough to earn a living he became an apprentice in the drapery trade, working for Lewis’ Silk Market in London. This was the forerunner of the John Lewis Partnership and James was to strike up a friendship with John Lewis which was to last for many years.
He left London for High Wycombe when he was 22, taking the position of shop assistant for William Redington. William Redington (senior) was a pawnbroker in Frogmoor, although it is also believed that he branched out into the drapery trade. William was to live in the house next door to the pawnshop with his fellow shop assistants. From the very start he had high hopes and even higher aspirations. In his fourth year of employment he married Mr Redington’s ward, Emma Ellen Gibbs, who was two years his senior. She had been the first person to open the door to him when he had knocked at Redington’s premises on his arrival from London. It seems a strange match for the jovial James as Emma was known to be an austere woman – but it appears that she was easily able to match his large ambitions with an even larger inheritance! Thus she continued to open the door for him in many ways still to come.
After their marriage James and Emma moved to the Midlands. The reasons for this are still unclear but it is likely that the Gibbs family had connections there. Thus James and Emma's two eldest children, William (born 1865) and Minnie (born 1867), were born in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
However James was soon to return to High Wycombe and branched out on his own, setting up a drapery store in White Hart Street (later to be consumed by the Murrays department building). He stocked it with goods supplied by his old colleague John Lewis. Later he moved to premises in Queens Square, which were to be rebuilt in 1888, and established J.G. Peace Wholesale and Retail Clothiers. The building still stands today, with the word 'Peace' on the side gable and the words 'Hen and Chickens' written below the eaves (according to family legend this was the mark of a tailor).
From 1878 to 1879 James was Mayor of Wycombe and remained a loyal citizen of the town, eventually being awarded the Freedom of the Borough, a feat which was repeated by his grandson Roly Clarke two generations later.
The 1881 census records the Peace family now living at Castle Hill House which James rented from Lord Carrington’s Estate. James and Emma's family had now grown to six children, one son and five daughters, and the house became the hub of activity as they held tea parties, played tennis and croquet on the lawns and generally ‘circulated’. In 1892 James bought Castle Hill House from the Carrington Estate and the Peace family moved up in the world.
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