The History of Welly Boots

December 1, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James’ Street, London, to modify the Hessian 18th century boot. This new boot was made of calfskin leather and must have been a transformation on previous Hessian boot. It would have been hardwearing, comfortable, lighter and probably treated with wax to help make it waterproof. The Duke of Wellington soon realised the advantage of better footwear for his troops and then the ball was rolling. The Wellington boot then played a pivotal role in history; the Battle of Waterloo, the American War of Independence and latterly in both World Wars. Such was the significance of his design they were worn at the Duke’s funeral cortege, and the name Wellington boot was born.

In 1852 Hiram Hutchinson met Charles Goodyear, who had invented a vulcanisation process for rubber. Hutchinson bought the patent and set up a company in France which would then serve the country’s large rural population. The brand honoured his home country “A L’Aigle – Homage to the Eagle” and went on to become one of the world’s leading boot makers. Aigle Wellington boots have become synonymous with quality.

In 1856 entrepreneur Henry Lee Norris also left America with four experienced rubber boot workers and went to Scotland and found a block of buildings in Edinburgh, known as the Castle Silk Mills. There, they registered the British Rubber Company. Rubber boots were only produced in limited numbers at the start, with other products taking more of the sales. This quickly changed with the outbreak of the First World War because of the appalling conditions in the trenches. Almost two million Wellington boots were sold to the army. In the Second Great War the armed forces again used vast quantities of rubber Wellington boots along with waders, particularly in Holland.

Farmers and gardeners have long been accustomed to wellies being an essential part of life and without them life would be interesting! To this end the welly has to be a hard wearing and comfortable, usually made of natural rubber with good non-slip soles. Unfortunately fashion hasn’t left the good old welly alone and it now comes in all different colours and shades, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but problem areas are looming. Often these types of wellies are made of plastic which, although very colourful, are not so good at lasting the test of time, frequently breaking and cracking on the creases are as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Furthermore if Wellington boots are bought for fashion and not comfort, they may lead to problems with aching limbs etc especially if poor quality in-soles are used in the manufacturing process. The old adage “you get what you pay” for is never truer.

A great place on the web to get quality welly boots is The Country Catalogue. This site has a large selection of wellies, including quality Hunter Wellies.

Hunter Wellington boots have always been a firm favourite, especially amongst the equestrian fraternity with the need for good in-soles and tighter calf fitting. The range is now quite extensive with different soles and linings fitted to different boots within their range.

Aigle Wellington boots are generally a darker colour boot than the light green Hunter, but have a reputation as a high quality rubber boot. An example of this would be the Parcours which were designed for walking long distances. The Parcours range, just like other Aigle boots, is hand made by experienced shoemakers. These boots are made from natural rubber, a material that stands up to extreme constraints while at the same time offering perfect comfort. The dual-material sole is flexible while providing shock-absorbing properties, while Parcours Iso is a neoprene lined Wellington providing high insulating performance.

Le Chameau also produce high quality hand made natural rubber Wellington boots with a neoprene lining called the Vierzonord range providing first-rate insulation against the cold and are extremely comfortable. Le Chameau have gained the enviable reputation by gamekeepers as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Wellington boots, being hard wearing, well fitting and light to wear. The Le Chameau Vierzonord Extreme was recently awarded best footwear by The Shooting Industry Awards. Le Chameau uses only the latest soles, mid-soles and innovative linings in the manufacture of their top of the range boots. Cotton lined All-Tracks are the competitive market end of the Le Chameau range and very good they are too!