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The History of the Wellington Boot

Keeping your feet warm and dry, Wellington boots are ideal for the typically British winter weather. In a country where there's an average 33.7 inches of rain every year, with 133 days out of 365 experiencing rain or snow, Wellingtons are pretty much essential.

They've been around for more than 200 years, having been invented by the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, in 1817. Although today's boots are made of rubber, the first Wellingtons were a type of leather boot. Rather than being everyday wear for everyone, they were the privilege of the British aristocracy in the beginning.

Wellies

 

First Wellington boots

Born in 1769, the Duke of Wellington was a British soldier and a leading political figure in the 19th century. He won victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, became a military hero and later served twice as Prime Minister, first from 1828 to 1830 and again in 1834.

As the former British ambassador to France and the governor of Mysore and Seringapatam in India, Wellesley was a wealthy man, who was appointed a duke in 1814. He had his own shoemaker, Hoby, of St James's Street, London, as was usual for the upper classes in the 19th century.

The fashionable boot of the day for men was the hessian boot, which had been around since the 18th century. First worn by German soldiers as military riding boots, the style became popular in England during the Regency period (which began in 1811), when they were made of polished leather and had decorative tassels.

Knee-high and with a semi-pointed toe and low heel, they were initially standard footwear for light cavalrymen but became popular among civilians too. However, Wellesley wanted a more practical and durable style of footwear, so he asked his shoemaker, Hoby, to design a new boot, based on the hessian example.

The resulting boot was made of calfskin leather, without the trim that was a feature of the hessian boot. It fitted more closely around the leg and stopped at the calf, rather than the knee. It also had a lower heel of around one inch.

Debuting in 1817, it was still suitable for riding but was also worn as evening wear. It was named the Wellington boot in the duke's honour.

 

Wellingtons boom

The new Wellington boot was an instant hit among British gentlemen, partly because of its practical and aesthetically pleasing design, but also because Wellesley was a war hero and other men were keen to emulate his style.

In 1852, after Charles Goodyear had invented the vulcanisation process for natural rubber to manufacture tyres, American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture rubber footwear. He moved to France and established his company, À l'Aigle. This meant "to the eagle" and honoured his home country of the United States.

In the mid-19th century, around 95% of the working class population in France worked in the fields, where it was often cold and damp. The traditional footwear was wooden clogs, which offered little in the way protection from the weather.

Hutchinson's move to manufacture rubber Wellington boots in France was therefore an astute one, as the affordable boots were a massive success among the agricultural community. For the first time, they became a practical item of footwear for the masses, rather than a fashion item for the upper classes.

In Britain, Wellington boots remained the main fashion item for gentlemen until the 1860s, when ankle boots began to take over as the most popular menswear.

 

Wartime production

With the advent of World War I in 1914, the British government urgently required footwear for the ground troops, who were enduring the muddy and flooded trenches of Europe. The War Office commissioned the North British Rubber Company to manufacture a waterproof boot suitable for the harsh conditions.

As a version of the Wellington boot, the resulting rubber trench boot was ideal. The mills ran 24 hours a day to produce 1.8 million pairs for the duration of the war, meeting the British Army's needs.

The North British Rubber Company later became Hunter Boot Ltd and at the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the company was again commissioned to manufacture rubber boots for the troops.

In the Netherlands, the British Armed Forces were often living in flooded conditions, where Wellingtons and rubber thigh-high boots were needed in vast quantities. Hunter Boot Ltd also supplied rubber ground sheets.

Wellington boots became popular among civilians, including men, women and children, for practical everyday wear in wet weather. They had developed from the snug-fitting design of the early 19th century into the shape that we know today - a far roomier boot, with a rounded toe and thicker sole.

Nicknamed "wellies" and "gumboots", they became the favoured footwear of labourers too. Wartime rationing had led to a shortage of workwear for men, so Wellington boots were a good option.

 

Post-war

Following World War II, "wellies" had become a staple part of British culture and were worn by people from all social backgrounds. They were relatively cheap to purchase, as they could be manufactured at a low cost, so they truly became boots for the masses.

Being totally waterproof, the boots have become protective footwear in many types of industry, with the steel toe-capped Wellington being produced to adhere to modern health and safety regulations, protecting the wearer from puncture and crush injuries.

Hunter Boot Ltd has continued to manufacture Wellington boots in many modern designs. Its headquarters are in Edinburgh, Scotland and it also has offices in London, Düsseldorf and New York. It first introduced green Wellington boots in 1955 and over the years, they became synonymous with country life.

After Lady Diana Spencer was pictured wearing a pair of green Wellingtons at Balmoral in 1980, while courting Prince Charles, sales rocketed as women all over Britain wanted to emulate her casual yet smart style.

 

Global popularity

Wellington boots are also popular in Australia, where they are often known as "gumbies" - a shortened form of gumboots. In America and Canada, the popular name for them is goloshes. Wellingtons with a furry lining are particularly popular for Canada's freezing cold winters.

They are also worn by dock workers and fishing crews, while white rubber boots are the preferred footwear of workers on shrimping boats in the US. In North America, a version similar to the original design, based on hessian boots, has been marketed as ranch Wellingtons.

While Wellington boots are popular workwear all over the world, they are also loved by children. Manufactured in many different colours (even pink sparkly ones!), they conjure up an image of fun and laughter as children jump in puddles!

Coruba

We don't manufacture rubber boots, but we do provide a wide range of other rubber products, including rubber matting for industrial and leisure applications, rubber gaskets and seals and many other useful products. Give us a call on 01702 811 792 or email info@coruba.co.uk for further information.



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