Boots, Word of the Week

Word of the Week: Wellington

The Wellington, (aka rainboot, wellie, topboot, gumboot) is a style of pull-on boots with no trim, often made of rubber, designed for inclement weather.

The Wellington was first worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, and considered fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

Wellington boots are waterproof and are most often made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) a halogenated polymer. They are usually worn when walking on wet or muddy ground, or to protect the wearer from heavy showers. They generally hit just below the knee, and nowadays, they are available in many colors and designs.

ORIGINS: The first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James’ Street, London, to modify the 18th century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut more closely around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch, and the boot stopped at mid-calf.  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 Duke can be seen wearing the boots, which are tasseled, in an 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale.

The boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles and worn by dandies, such as Beau Brummell, Wellingtons remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s.  In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf-high version and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

These boots were at first made of leather. However in 1852, Hiram Hutchinson met Charles Goodyear who had just invented the vulcanization process for natural rubber. While Goodyear decided to manufacture tires, Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear and moved to France to establish “A l’Aigle” in 1853 (“To the Eagle”, to honour his home country. The company today is simply called “AIGLE”, “Eagle”). In a country where 95% of the population were working on fields with wooden clogs as it had been for generations, the introduction of the Wellington type rubber boot became a success: farmers would be able to come back home with clean dry feet.

Production of the Wellington boot was dramatically boosted with the advent of World War I due to the demand for a sturdy boot suitable for the conditions in flooded trenches. The North British Rubber Company, now Hunter Boot Ltd, was asked by the War Office to construct a sturdy boot suitable for the conditions in flooded trenches. The mills ran day and night to produce immense quantities of these trench boots. In total, 1,185,036 pairs were made to cope with the Army’s demands.

For WWII, Hunter were once again called upon to supply vast quantities of wellington and thigh boots. 80% of production was for war materials – from ground sheets to life belts and gas masks. In Holland, forces were working in flooded conditions which demanded Wellingtons and tight boots in vast supplies.

By the end of the war the wellington had become popular among men, women and children for wear in wet weather. The boot had developed to become far roomier with a thick sole and rounded toe. Also, with the rationing of that time, labourers began to use them for daily work.

Wellington boots are waterproof and are most often made from rubber or a synthetic equivalent. They are usually worn when walking on very wet or muddy ground, or to protect the wearer from industrial chemicals and they are traditionally knee-height.

Check out previous Words of the Week, and read the shoe glossary for more footwear lingo!

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