Over the past few months I have become aware that not everyone knows what wellies are. Rubber boots that are designed to keep the feet dry, they are not an item of footwear that is particular to Britain but as they have been taken around the world other countries have come up with different names and this is where the word ‘wellies’ can get lost in translation. Apparently wellies are called galoshes, rain boots or rubber boots in America and Canada, gumboots or gummies in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and are sometimes referred to as topboots in Ireland. So I thought I’d start off the New Year with a post about the history of the humble Wellington Boot.
Wellington boots are named after the Duke of Wellington. Famous for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he then went on to be head of the British Army and became Prime Minister (1828-1830). Wellington was nicknamed ‘The Beau’ because of his immaculate appearance and fashionable dress sense, the David Beckham of the day, perhaps.
Mens’ fashion was changing at the beginning of the 19th century with a move away from wearing breeches, an item of clothing that covered a man from the waist to the knees. The material was fastened around each leg with buttons or drawstrings but wasn’t particularly practical and as a result more men started to wear trousers. However, this meant the standard footwear of the day had to also change. Wellington decided to get his shoemaker to make him some boots that were practical for the battlefield but also stylish. The resulting boot was made from soft calfskin leather and tightly fitted the leg.
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 wellingtons 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 Hunters 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.
Very much enjoyed you Welly history-are you suggesting that David Beckham could one day become Prime Minister too? V.best Naomi
Oh dear, I hope not. Although most politicians are about image rather than substance so who knows. I’m sure Posh would love the role as ‘First Lady’.
I’m not particularly fond of wellies, I find them to be cold, no matter how many pairs of socks I wear with them. They’re very good at keeping feet dry though, so I do sometimes wear them.
Petra Hoyer Millar said:
I LOVE wellies and much appreciated your ode to this wonderful aspect of what should be, daily, attire. I see you’re a Hunters fan, am more of a Muck boot, Le Chameau person myself.
Pauline Mulligan said:
Really interesting post, always wear them for gardening, used to wear them for dog walking in the winter when we had her, so useful for keeping the feet dry. Mine are very cheap from the garden centre, not super Hunters like yours!!
Elephant's Eye said:
Gummies must be particularly in Oz, and gumboots reminds me of miners dancing decades ago. My ‘wellingtonians’ get worn when the house pretends to be Noah’s Ark in winter storms.
Reblogged this on arignagardener and commented:
All you every need to know about wellies!
Carolyn (urbanvegpatch) said:
What a marvellous post, WW! A fitting post to start off the new year and, obviously, a favourite topic with many gardeners. Personally, I’d wear mine ALL the time if I could – warm, cosy and neoprene lined, they’re the perfect shoe for my foot, albeit not as fashionable as the Duke’s!
Somehow Wellington would not have cut such a dashing figure if he had been wearing leopard skinned, wedged heeled wellies. Mine live in the garage ready to accompany my feet to trips to the allotment, where in prolonged wet weather the paths are permanently underwater. I also have some builder’s boots too so spoilt for choice.
Great enjoyable post! I have reblogged it on ArignaGardener…hope that’s ok with you.
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.
I love wellies or rubber boots as I call them and I enjoyed your post and learning the history. I am also laughing because I own a pair of leopard patterned ones. I love the ones they make for kids with the duck face at the point, but they don’t make them for adults 😦
What an enjoyable, and informative, post. Mine are on their last legs, so to speak, and I will have to buy a new pair soon. xx
fascinating history re your chosen footwear. If I don mine at all, I tend to swan about in green wellies pretending my 2nd home is in the country, like wearing Barbours in town. They are also useful for running on shingle to strengthen calf muscles
Happy New Year!
Here in the States we have our own version of the Wellies they are called Duck Boots…they are made by a company called LL Bean. Comparing the two boots it seems as though the Wellies are better suited for my needs of picking weeds and veggies from our garden. However, I ususally just slip into my cowgirl boots and head out the door. Lovely post!
It’s so wet where I live in Wales that wellies really are the best footwear, although I do like the sound of your cowgirl boots. Glad you liked the post and thanks for stopping by.
Here in North Georgia USA, some call them “chicken boots” because all the workers in the chicken processing plants wear them.
I’ll leave the reason to your imagination.