Wellies are the most popular form of footwear found in the United Kingdom. They keep our feet warm and dry in wet weather, and make sure they are well protected from the elements. We have worn them for well over a hundred years, and in a country where rain is the most common forecast, it’s a shoe that we take care in picking. Here is a brief history of the Wellington boot, and a little about who invented the one we wear today.
The Wellington Boot came from the leather Hessian boot, a form of footwear that became popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were standard footwear for cavalry, and popular among the Hussars. Over time, they became popular with civilians as well, and were incredibly good for rising horses as the pointed toe and low heel fit perfectly in the stirrup.
The Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, instructed his shoemaker to modify the Hessian boot to fit his specifications. It was made from calfskin leather and the trim was removed for a closer fit around the leg and calf. It was cut mid-calf and was perfect for cavalry and heavy use as well as being worn as informal evening wear.
It was later further modified so that the front was cut to cover the knee in order to provide protection for the knees for those riding horses into battle. With two models out and rising in popularity, the name Wellington had really stuck.
Originally, wellies were made from leather. However, in 1852 the vulcanisation process for natural rubber had been developed and was starting to be used for the manufacture of tyres. Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear and moved to France, creating the company that we now know as Aigle.
In France, over 90% of the people there were wearing wooden clogs for work. The rubber wellies provided them with something more comfortable, flexible, and durable than before. They were an instant success and farmers rejoiced that they could come back from work with clean and dry feet.
In Modern History
During World War One wellies were standard footwear in the trenches, to keep the feet of soldiers as warm and dry as possible during these muddy and unfavourable conditions. Mills ran constantly to keep up with the demand for the boots, and by the end of the war more than a million boots had been manufactured. It was during this period of production that Hunter was founded.
During the Second World War Hunter was once again requested to manufacture boots for the soldiers. They were in high demand and required to get through the muddy terrain in Europe. By 1945, wellies had become a popular choice of footwear among men, women, and children. They were further developed to become more comfortable and spacious, and were used extensively by farmers and labourers during this time.
Now they are a popular form of footwear for a number of occasions – from festivals goers to walking the dog. Even popular celebrities are fond of wearing wellies. They come in a variety of styles and fits, and some even come with steel toe caps for protection during heavy physical labour. They range from the cheap and cheerful, to the stylish and sophisticated, with a boot made that will suit everyone’s needs.