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Blog/Brand Bible/History of Hunter wellies
One of Britain’s most beloved footwear brands, Hunter boast that rarest of combinations, heritage with modernity.
The wellington boot can be traced back to Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley, who, around the turn of the 19th century, had his cobbler make him a pair of modified Hessian boots with the front extending up over the knee, after observing the devastating knee injuries sustained by many cavalrymen in battle.
Wellington’s original boots were made from leather, and reproductions made from patriotic Brits remained that way for around fifty years, before the style gradually fell out of style in the UK. Meanwhile, in America, Charles Goodyear was perfecting his innovative technique of vulcanising rubber, making it more elasticated and durable. One man, Hiram Hutchinson, took the patent to France, where he founded Aigle. Another, Henry Lee Norris, set his sights on the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh, arriving there in 1856 with business partner Spencer Thomas Parmlee.
Norris and Parmelee intended to use this innovative new material in the manufacture of waterproof boots broadly similar to Wellington’s, among other things.
The boots and the other products being produced by Hunter - then still under the moniker the North British Rubber Company - sold well, and by 1875, the company had expanded from just four employees to 600. Norris was succeeded by William Erskine Bartlett, who invented the design still largely used today for car tyres. Hunter sold the patent to Dunlop for the veritable fortune of $973,000, securing the company’s finances and allowing them to focus their efforts on boots for the foreseeable future.
The welly’s identity as a British institution was solidified by its role in both World Wars, as it helped British soldiers cope with muddy, flooded conditions in the trenches. World War I saw Hunter produce over one million boots for the war effort. The firm were asked to expand their remit in WWII, manufacturing gas masks and life belts, as well as boots. In both conflicts, the hard-wearing, waterproof boots were said to be the envy of the enemy, and a contributory factor in the eventual Allied victory.
After the war, many soldiers wore their boots home and with rationing limiting family finances, many opted to simply keep wearing them, leading to a widespread increase in popularity. It was around this time that Hunter refined the design to close to what we know today, introducing a roomier, rounded toe box.
Then, in late 1955, came the moment that has arguably defined the company since. With demand rising unabated and competition beginning to appear, comfort was paramount. Hunter introduced a tall, green wellington boot, designed with an orthopaedic purpose in mind. It would go on to become the best selling welly in the world. On the back of the green boot, the company won two Royal Warrants by Appointment as waterproof footwear suppliers to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
Despite several changes in ownership since, Hunter have simply gone from strength to strength, remaining the first name in rubber wellies. Since the turn of the millennia, the company has introduced a range of variations on the Original welly design.