Battle Of The Wellington Boots And Wellies

January 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Shopping

Wellington Boots And Wellies

1817 was the year the Wellington or wellies first made its appearance. At this time men’s fashion was going through major changes as gentlemen everywhere discarded their knee breeches in favour of trousers. This however, led to a problem regarding comfortable footwear. The previously popular Hessian boot, worn with breeches, was styled with a curvy turned-down top and heavy metallic braid – totally unsuitable for wearing under trousers.

To this end, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James Street, London, to modify the 18th century boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening. The Iron Duke didn’t know what he’d started – the boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck ever since.


The boots became incredibly popular with fashion conscious men of the day, such as Beau Brummell, wanting to emulate the great soldier and the boots became known as ‘Wellington Boots’ in his honour.

By the 1850s rubber had been discovered and some manufacturers were experimenting with this new material. In 1853, Hiram Hutchinson moved back to his native France after working with Charles Goodyear, the inventor of the vulcanisation of rubber.

Hutchinson set up ‘A l’Aigle  to manufacture rubber boots. At the same time, Henry Lee Norris established the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh, Scotland which made a wide range of products including rubber boots. But it wasn’t until the First World War that the rubber Wellington boot as we know it became popular when the War Office instructed the North British Rubber Company to produce hard wearing boots that could cope with the wet conditions of trench warfare.

After the war Wellington or wellies became popular with ordinary people as a wet weather boot and the North British Rubber Company eventually became Hunter Boot Ltd now manufacturing the famous Hunter  wellies….

There is now a myriad of wellies available with every colour and pattern  imaginable, from short ankle boots to wellies with a heel!  In fact, although wellies are still seen as practical footwear, they have once again become fashionable. I wonder what the Duke would think of leopard patterned, wedge heeled rubber boots that carry his name today.


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