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 named after 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.
The Duke of Wellington was renowned for his interest in good-quality footwear, and was often shown in prints and paintings wearing military Hessian boots. Wellington, however, was unsatisfied with the traditional military boot, which he felt restricted movement and were unsuitable for wet conditions. Seeking an improvement, Wellington approached London bootmaker George Hoby, of St James’s Street in 1817 to redesign the boots.
Wellington’s new boots were made of calfskin leather treated with wax, which made them both supple and waterproof. The boot was also elegantly designed to fit closer to the calf, however, this bespoke quality made them difficult to fit. Writing to Hoby after receiving his first two pairs of new boots Wellington remarked ‘the boots you send me were still too small in the calf of the leg and about an inch and a half short of the leg’.
Wellington’s new boot proved to be immensely popular with the troops because it was both hard wearing in battle, yet comfortable for evening wear. It also became the ‘must have’ fashion accessory for the gentleman beau monde about town, considered fashionable in all the best circles.