Today the word ‘wellington’ is used to describe a waterproof rubber boot worn for work or leisure. However it originally referred to a new shape of leather boot that was named after the military Commander Arthur Wellesley. A celebrated hero, Wellesley became the first Duke of Wellington and won many victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars – most famously the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.
Wellington was renowned for his interest in good-quality footwear, and was often shown wearing hessian boots. In The Soldiers’ Feet and Footgear, Captain Cecil Webb-Johnson notes: “Wellington, when asked the most important part of a soldier’s equipment, replied ‘Firstly, a pair of good shoes, secondly a pair of good shoes, and thirdly a pair of half-soles’.” (1913)
George Hoby, bootmaker to St James’s Palace, London, made Wellington’s boots. Bata Shoe Museum is in possession of a letter from Wellington to Hoby that highlights how difficult it must have been to make them fit correctly. Two pairs of new boots ordered and received get the following response: “The boots you sent me were still too small in the calf of the leg and about an inch and a half short of the leg.” So close-fitting was the wellington that one needed boot jacks to pull the boots off.
Queen Victoria once asked the Duke of Wellington what type of boots he was wearing. “People call them wellingtons, ma’am”, he said. “How absurd”, commented the Queen, replying, “Where, I should like to know, would they find a pair of wellingtons?” She obviously thought he was unique.
These delightful wellingtons have a stunning red morocco leather leg and date to the 1860s.