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The Wellington boot is a type of boot based upon leather Hessian boots. They were worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. This novel "Wellington" boot became a staple of hunting and outdoor wear for the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.
Wellington boots are also known as 'rubber boots, wellies, wellingtons, topboots, billy-boots, gumboots, gumbies, gummies, rainboots, Alaskan Sneakers, kboots, gum rubbers.
- 1 Design and use
- 2 Origins
- 3 Modifications
- 4 Production in World War I
- 5 Production in World War II
- 6 Post-war
- 7 Usage and terminology in other countries
- 8 Wellingtons in sport and song
- 9 Industrial wear
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Design and use
Wellington boots are 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 and puddles. They are generally just below knee-high although shorter boots are available.
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, from chemical spills in chemical plants and from water, dirt, and mud in horticultural and agricultural work; and serving the high standard of hygiene required in food processing plants, operating theatres, and dust-free clean rooms for electronics manufacture.
The 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 riding, yet smart enough for informal evening wear. The boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck in English ever since. In the 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale, the Duke can be seen wearing the more formal Hessian style boots, which are tasselled.
In his biography, it is reported that Wellington noted that many cavalry soldiers sustained crippling wounds by having been shot in the knee – a very vulnerable and exposed part of the body when one is mounted on a horse. He proposed a change in the design of the typical boot by having it cut so as to extend the front upward to cover the knee. This modification afforded some measure of protection in battle.
Wellington's utilitarian 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. Wellington is one of the two British Prime Ministers to have given his name to an item of clothing, the other being Sir Anthony Eden. (See Anthony Eden hat.)
Wellington boots were at first made of leather. However in 1852 Hiram Hutchinson met Charles Goodyear, who had just invented the vulcanisation process for natural rubber. While Goodyear decided to manufacture tyres, Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear and moved to France to establish À l'Aigle ("to the Eagle") in 1853, to honour his home country. Today the company is simply called Aigle. 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 waterproof, Wellington-type rubber boot became an instant success: farmers would be able to come back home with clean, dry feet.
Production in World War I
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 and muddy 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.
Production in World War II
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 the Netherlands, 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 waterproof, lent itself immediately to being the preferred protective material 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.
Green Wellington boots, introduced by Hunters in 1955, gradually became a shorthand for "country life" in the UK. In 1980, sales of their boots skyrocketed after Lady Diana Spencer (future Princess Diana) was pictured wearing a pair on the Balmoral estate during her courtship with Charles.
Usage and terminology in other countries
Though most commonly called "gum boots" or "gumbies", an alternative name, "Blucher Boot", is occasionally used by some older Australians. Blücher was Wellington's colleague at The Battle of Waterloo and there is speculation that some early emigrants to Australia, remembering the battle, may have confused a different design the Blucher shoe developed by Blucher. The Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote a poem to a pair of Blucher Boots in 1890.
Canada and the United States
Wellington boots, almost always simply called rain boots, rubber boots, billy boots, or gum-boots, are popular in Canada and the United States, particularly in springtime when melting snows leave wet and muddy ground. Young people can be seen wearing them to school or university and taking them to summer camps.
While green Wellingtons are popular in Britain, red-soled black rubber boots are often seen in the United States, in addition to Canadian styles. Wellingtons specifically made for cold weather, lined with warm insulating material, are especially popular practical footwear for Canadian winters. This same style of lined boot is also popular among those who work in or near the ocean as one can wade in and out of shallow, but cold, ocean water, while staying dry and warm.
In the US white mid-calf rubber boots are worn by workers on shrimp boats and construction workers pouring concrete.
Leather boots similar to Wellington's original Hessian boots have been marketed in North America as "Ranch Wellingtons" or "Western Wellingtons". These boots have more rounded toes, lower heels, and less radically scalloped tops than typical "cowboy boots".
In some parts of Ireland one can hear older people refer to their Wellington boots as "topboots", usually black in colour, as this was a popular name for Wellingtons in the 1960s. Along with leather steel cap boots, Wellingtons are essential farmer footwear in Ireland. In general, Irish people will refer to Wellington Boots as "Wellies". "Waterboots" is sometimes heard too. Most Wellingtons worn in Ireland are olive green.
In New Zealand, Wellingtons are called "gumboots" "wellies" or "Redbands" (after a popular brand), and are considered essential foot wear for farmers. Gumboots are often referred to in New Zealand popular culture such as the rurally-based Footrot Flats comic strip. The farming town of Taihape in the North Island proclaims itself "Gumboot capital of the World" and has annual competitions and events such as Gumboot Day, where gumboots are thrown. Most gumboots are black, but those worn by abattoir workers, butchers, fishermen and by hospital operating theatre staff and surgeons are white, and children's sizes come in multiple colours.
The term "gum boot" in New Zealand is thought to derive from the 19th-century kauri-gum diggers, who wore this footwear, or perhaps because the boots were made from gum rubber. The term is often abbreviated to "gummies". New Zealand comedy character Fred Dagg paid tribute to this iconic footwear in his song "Gumboots" a modified version of Billy Connolly's "If It Wasna For Your Wellies".
The boots are very popular in Scandinavian countries, with conditions and climate similar to Canada. In fact, before its entry into the mobile phone business, rubber boots were among the best-known products of Nokia. The Finnish Defence Forces issues rubber boots to all soldiers for use in wet conditions and during the winter with felt liners.
In Russia rubber boots were first introduced in the 1920s. Immediately, they became extremely popular because of Russian weather conditions. During the rule of Joseph Stalin, 17 rubber-boot factories were built in different parts of the Soviet Union. Along with valenki in winter, rubber boots became the traditional footwear in springs and autumns.
When Nikita Khrushchev came to power, the boot became charged politically in the context of the "Battle for Modesty" campaign, where rubber footwear was proclaimed as "socialism style" (thus fashionable), while leather, which was obviously more expensive, was derided as "capitalism style" (thus unfashionable). During the period 1961–1964 leather footwear disappeared from Soviet shops. When Leonid Brezhnev came to power in 1964, the usual leather footwear returned to shops, and rubber boots quickly lost their popularity, returning to their original role of utility footwear.
Wellington Boots are a commonly used form of waterproof footwear in the UK, and usually referred to as Wellies.
Wellingtons in sport and song
In South Africa, the sound of people dancing in gumboots has been incorporated into a form of semi-traditional popular music, sometimes known as "gumboot music" or "gumboot zydeco" in Africa, or Welly boot dance by people from Britain. The dance began as a form of communication in the late 19th century in the gold mines of South Africa. The miners were forbidden to speak with each other while they worked, and were stripped of the right to wear their tribal garments. They adopted a system of communication using their work attire and native tribal rhythms. The miner uniform included Wellington boots, hard hats, and chains; so the miners used the items of their work uniform to develop a form of communication, for safety, and simply as a form of entertainment. Songs or chants sometimes accompanied these gumboot dances, often with themes of longing or loneliness, and sometimes making fun of their bosses in the songs. The owners of the mines, impressed with this phenomenon, would allow the best gumboot dancers to form troupes and perform. The dances, the uniform, and the rhythms have lived on, from the gold mines in South Africa, in step dance, as well as many other forms of music and dance that use the body to create arrangements of rhythms. Traditional gumboot dances, as well as contemporary versions, can be seen throughout Africa and the United States, though in South Africa gumboot dancing has become something of a tourist attraction, rather than a celebration of liberation under oppression. The 1986 Paul Simon album Graceland contains the song "Gumboots". This song, like much of the album, was recorded in South Africa.
In 1974 Scottish comedian Billy Connolly adopted a comical ode to the boot called "The Welly Boot Song" as his theme tune, and it became one of his best-known songs. In 1976, satirist John Clarke's alter ego Fred Dagg reworked Connolly's song as "If It Weren't for your Gumboots", and created a hit. Wellies have also been used by the band, Gaelic Storm, in their fifth full album, "Bring Yer Wellies", and in the song "Kelly's Wellies" on the same album.
In the song "Springtime", Spinal Tap tires of spring, and they want drizzle, sleet, and "Wellies on my feet".
In the United Kingdom, there is a light-hearted sport, known as wellie wanging, which involves throwing Wellington boots as far as possible.
As stated above, the all-rubber (or plastic, composite, etc.) waterproof construction, especially when mated to a steel toe has been widely adopted for all manner of industry. An exhaustive list is beyond the scope of the article, but a short list would include:
White boots, one-piece construction, commonly of PVC or a similar plastic are worn in
- Abattoirs or meat-packing plants
- Clean rooms for delicate and sensitive electronics, including satellites and microchips
- Fast-food industry
- Haz-Mat hazardous chemicals clean-up operations
- Electrical Insulated for protection against electrical hazards through the ground
- US concrete pouring
- US shrimp boats
- Agricultural Activities
- British Country Clothing
- Waders (footwear)
- Paddington Bear
- William's Wish Wellingtons
- James Lonsdale's portrait of Wellington
- "Will Kate kick off a war of the Welles?". The Telegraph. 17 June 2015.
- "These were the boots that shaped the world". The Telegraph. 17 June 2015.
- "To a Pair of Blucher Boots" by Henry Lawson
- London Telegraph
- New York Times
- SongMeanings.net Alphabeat – Rubber Boots