Wellington boot

The Wellington boot, also known as a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot, or a rubber boot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and 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 are generally just below knee-high.


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, 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 In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.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" 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 will 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. Making the wellington boot a functional necessity.

Again the Wellington boot played an important contribution during World War II. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, although trench warfare was not a feature of the war, the wellington still played an important role. Those forces assigned the task of clearing Holland of the enemy had to work in terrible flooded conditions.

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.

Usage and terminology in other countries

Canada and the US

Wellington boots, almost always simply called rubber boots, are popular in Canada and the northern US 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, yellow-soled black rubber boots are often seen in the US, in addition to Canadian styles. Wellingtons specifically made for cold weather, lined with warm insulating material, are especially popular during Canadian winters. In Britain "Wellington Boots" are often abbreviated simply to "Wellies".

Lately designers have made rubber boots another item of fashionable footwear.

In the U.S. white mid-calf rubber boots are worn by workers on shrimp boats.

Popular alternatives to Wellington boots in the US are "gumboots" manufactured and sold by L.L.Bean. These are based on the original "Maine Hunting Shoe" and combine a rubber shoe with stitched leather leggings of various heights.

Colloquially known as shitkicker boots and shitkickers in agricultural and farm settings, due to being worn in mud and animal pens.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, Wellingtons are called gumboots and they are considered essential foot wear for farmers. Gumboots are often referred to in Kiwi popular culture such as Footrot Flats. The farming town of Taihape in New Zealand's 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, and by hospital operating theatre staff and surgeons are white, and children's sizes come in multiple colours.

Southern Africa

They are also called gumboots in Southern Africa.


Though most commonly called gumboots, an alternative name "Blucher Boot" is occasionally heard there, used by some older Australians. Gummies is also a nickname used. 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 preserved an earlier term for the boots that has died out elsewhere. The Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote a poem to a pair of Blucher Boots in 1890.


In some parts of Ireland one can hear older people refer to their Wellington boots as "me topboots", usually black in colour, as this was a popular name for Wellingtons in the 1960s.


The boots are also popular in Scandinavian countries. In fact, before its entry into the mobile phone business, rubber boots were among the best-known products of Nokia.


In Russia rubber boots were first introduced in 1920s. Immediately, they became extremely popular because of Russian weather conditions. During the rule of Stalin, 17 factories which produced rubber boots were built in different parts of the USSR. Along with valenki in winter, rubber boots became a traditional footwear in springs and autumns. When Nikita Khrushchev came to power, in frames of the "battle for modesty", rubber footwear was proclaimed as "Socialism style", while leather, which was obviously more expensive, was as "Capitalism style". During the period 1961–1964 leather footwear disappeared from Soviet shops. This process was abruptly halted by Leonid Brezhnev, who came to power in 1964. Usual footwear returned to shops, and rubber boots quickly lost their popularity.

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, often known as "gumboot music" or "gumboot zydeco" in Africa or Welly boot dance by people from Britain. The dance is said to have been performed by miners to keep their spirits up whilst working.

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.

Between 1994 and 1996, the UK's BBC1 created several series of William's Wish Wellingtons, about a boy named William whose magical red Wellington Boots could grant him wishes.

In Britain, there is a light-hearted sport, known as wellie wanging, which involves throwing Wellington boots as far as possible.


See also

External links

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