The Wellington boot, also known as rubber-boots, wellies, topboots, gumboots, barnboots, muckboots or rainboots are a type of boot based upon leather Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. This novel "Wellington" boot then became a fashionable style emulated by the British aristocracy in the early 19th century. At Bradshaw and Lloyd we continue to offer the classic all leather Goodyear welted Wellington from Sanders shoes Wellington which remains popular in military circles.
These days Wellington boots are completely waterproof and are most often made from Rubber or 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 are generally just below knee-high. The "Wellington" in contemporary society is a very common and necessary safety or hygiene shoe for vastly diverse industrial settings: for heavy industry with an integrated reinforced toe; protection from mud and grime in mines, chemical spills in chemical plants to highest standard hygiene requirements from food processing plants, operating theatres and state-of-the-art dust-free clean rooms for electronics manufacture.
The first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James's Street, London, to modify the 18th-century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot was fabricated in soft calfskin leather, had the trim removed and was cut to fit more closely around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch (2.5 centimetres), and the boot stopped at mid-calf. It was suitably hard-wearing for battle, yet comfortable for the evening. The boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck in British English ever since. The Duke can be seen wearing his namesake boots, which are tasseled, in an 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale.
Wellington's dashing new 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, they 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 In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf-high version, and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.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 tyres, Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear and moved to France to establish "A l'Aigle" ("To the Eagle") in 1853, 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 they had been for generations, the introduction of the wholly water-proof Wellington-type rubber boot became an instant 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 and a requirement for footwear suitable for the conditions in Europe's flooded trenches. The North British Rubber Company (now Hunter Boot Ltd) was asked by the War Office to construct a boot suitable for such conditions. The mills ran day and night to produce immense quantities of these trench boots. In total, 1,185,036 pairs were made to meet the British Army's demands.
In World War II, Hunter Boot was again requested to supply vast quantities of Wellington and thigh boots. 80% of production was of war materials - from (rubber) ground sheets to life belts and gas masks. In Holland, the British forces were working in flooded conditions which demanded Wellingtons and thigh boots in vast supplies.
By the end of the war in 1945, the Wellington had become popular among men, women and children for wet weather wear. 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.
The lower cost and ease of rubber "Wellington" boot manufacture, and being entirely water-proof, lent itself immediately to being the preferred protective shoe to leather in all forms of industry. Increased attention to occupational health and safety requirements led to the steel toe or steel-capped Wellington: a protective (commonly internal) toe capping to protect the foot from crush and puncture injuries. Although traditionally made of steel, the reinforcement may be a composite or a plastic material such as ThermoPlastic Polyurethane (TPU). Such steel-toe Wellingtons are nearly indispensable in an enormous range of industry and are often mandatory wear to meet local occupational health and safety legislation or insurance requirements.
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