Hunter Boots have defined the standard in outdoor rain boots for almost two centuries. 1817 was the year the Wellington, or Wellie, first made its appearance. At this time men's fashion was going through major changes as gentlemen everywhere discarded their knee breeches in favour of trousers. This however, led to a problem regarding comfortable footwear. The previously popular Hessian boot, worn with breeches, was styled with a curvy turned-down top and heavy metallic braid - totally unsuitable for wearing under trousers.
To this end, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James Street, London, to modify the 18th century boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. 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.
These boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840's. In the 50's they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 60's they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.
All these boots were made of leather, however in America, where there was more experimentation in shoemaking, producers were beginning to manufacture with rubber. One such entrepreneur, Mr. Henry Lee Norris, came to Scotland in search of a suitable site to produce rubber footwear.
Having acquired a block of buildings in Edinburgh, known as the Castle Silk Mills, the North British Rubber Company was registered as a limited liability company in September 1856.
Mr. Norris then had to find employees skilled in the manufacture of rubber footwear. This was no simple task for such a new industry. The problem was solved by importing labour. Four adventurous individuals from New York set sail on a ship laden with manufacturing machinery bound to become pioneers of the rubber industry in Scotland. They were employed not only to make the boots, but also to instruct others in the process.
Although this company began its life as a manufacturer of rubber boots and shoes, it quickly expanded to produce an extensive range of rubber products. These included tyres, conveyor belts, combs, golf balls, hot water bottles and rubber flooring - to name just a few.
Initially the rubber boot was produced in a limited number but production was dramatically boosted with the advent of World War I. The North British Rubber Company was asked by the War Office to construct a sturdy boot suitable for the conditions in flooded trenches. The mills ran day and night to produce immense quantities of these trench boots. In total, 1,185,036 pairs were made to cope with the Army's demands. This fashionable boot was now a functional necessity.
Again the company made an important contribution during World War II. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, 80% of the entire output consisted of war materials. The list of contributions was extensive, including ground sheets, life belts, bomb covers, gas masks and Wellington boots.
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. Thus The North British Rubber Company was called upon to supply vast quantities of Wellingtons and thigh boots.
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.
To deal with this success the company extended their manufacturing premises in 1946, acquiring an extensive factory in Dumfriesshire. This factory, known as Heathhall, had been built in 1912 originally to manufacture car and aeronautical engines.
The North British Rubber Company continued to prosper introducing both the Green Hunter and Royal Hunter Wellingtons into the market in 1958. Trade reaction was very slow - an order of 36 pairs was regarded as quite an achievement. However, the company persisted in their promotion taking them to county shows.
In 1966, The North British Rubber Company underwent a name change and from that date operated under the name of Uniroyal Limited. In 1978, the golf ball production side of the business was sold off. This was shortly followed by the sale of the tyre factory at Newbridge near Edinburgh to Continental.
In 1986 The Gates Rubber Company Limited of Colorado, Denver bought Uniroyal and the following year the name of the Scottish company was changed to The Gates Rubber Company Ltd. In 1996 Gates was bought by Tomkins PLC of London and then later Hunter became the Hunter Division of Interfloor.
In 2004 the management of the Hunter Division of Interfloor, together with external investors, funded a management buy-out of the company and the company became the Hunter Rubber Co. Ltd.
In 2006 the ownership of the company changed and it now trades as Hunter Boot Limited.
During its 50 year lifespan, the Hunter Wellington boot has undergone a major revolution. From being a solely practical item it has now become fashionably acceptable, particularly within "yuppie" circles. This has caused a great surge in demand with distributors now purchasing thousands of pairs at a time - a far cry from the original 36 pair orders.