My son was inconsolable when it came to dog walk time, because he had a hurty toe.
What to wear into the forest? His trainers would pinch, and I forbade his new sandals.
Because it’s muddy out there, right now. The heavens have tipped unbelievable amounts of rain on an incredulous English population. We are all hot under the collar about it, but there is absolutely no-one to whom we can complain in triplicate. In the forest, the soil has had enough, thank you very much. Peat has become mire. Purchasing sandals, it seems, was a foolhardy course of action.
What a good thing there was a roomy pair of bottle green wellies waiting for Felix in the porch. He popped them on to reveal they protected the toe, and were a passport to all the best puddles.
Felix might as well have had seven league boots on. He requested the muddiest route and investigated every quaggy mire with the application of a professional surveyor. He sought out broad puddles, deep puddles, sticky puddles and shallow clear pools. He contrived to become stuck, grinning like a delighted orangutan and elongating the drama as his concerned parents asked him: did he need towing out?
He sloshed and sploshed and diced with welly levels, daring the puddles higher and higher, every further towards the top of his boots.
It is easy to forget that, while wellies have become the staple of children and women on relentless soggy British days out, they began as an unmistakably blokey thing.
We all know who designed them: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. He had long admired the boots worn by the Hessian soldiers, the 18th century German mercinaries who often worked for the British Empire. He wanted something softer, more close fitting, but which could be used one minute on the battlefield and the next at dinner that evening.
How very British. Keep calm and carry on, and all that.
But Wellington didn’t make the boot.
At the top of St James Street, on the corner of Picadilly, next to the old Guards Club, there once stood a stood a renowned bootmaker’s. It belonged to George Hoby, bootmaker to the stars; or at least, to the great and good of his time.
His boots were the best. There was no disputing it. But according to celebrated diarist Captain Rees Howell Gronow,his manners were famed for being arrogant and irascible.
When an early Churchill stormed into his shop to complain he would never patronise Hoby’s again because of the poor quality of his boots, Hoby turned with a sardonic pastiche of defeated loss to his shopman and said: “John, close the shutters. It is all over with us. I must shut up shop; Ensign Churchill withdraws his custom from me…”
One day, as he was with the Duke of Kent fitting him for boots, someone brought news that Wellington had trounced the French at Vittoria.
Hoby retorted: ““If Lord Wellington had had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”
Magic boots. Seven-league boots: Hoby died leaving a fortune of £120,000, and his legacy has outshone the fortune by far. It stretches throughout English life,through all our rainy days.
All the way to a rainy forest puddle, where a small boy plays at adventures.
Who knows where Hoby’s boots will carry him.
Image source here
38 thoughts on “The Real Man Behind The Wellington Boot”
and these days wellies in all sorts of patterns and colours are available. I keep thinking I need a wild pair for gardening, but then my shabby old gardening clothes would look even worse by comparison
I long ago gave up on designer wellies, Sidey: though I have a pair of ankle length ones which I can slip on for squelchy walks with the dog.
I was thinking more of the cheap ones 😉 all “cheep and cheerful” as a friend puts it (I think she means a cross between cheap and squeaky)
What a wonderful post. I knew of Lobbs but I did not know of Hoby. I love his retort to Churchill.
It is classic, isn’t it, Roger?
kids and puddles, who can separate them and then wellies come handy. Another interesting piece.
Thanks Jas. Brought to you by Felix and his new boots 🙂
I have long known that nothing makes a child happier than a pair of wellies and a monster puddle.
And thank god for it, Tilly! Otherwise wet days would be a cabin-fever disaster!
Puddles are a boy’s 2nd best friend.
😀 Indeed. And a dog’s.
I miss my wellies. They developed a hole in the foot, something Hoby’s would’ve been immune to, most likely.
The rubber ones do tend to split, Andra; though I bet Hoby’s was not as impermeable to moisture generally as these are.
I did wear them in the snow, and I’m sure the stuff they put on the sidewalks ate through them. With wool socks, they do make great snow shoes. 🙂
And an entire 21st Century industry has sprung forth, full-blown from that basic boot! Nothing, but nothing must escape the “designer” label! That said, I’d love to have several pair of those with varied floral or abstract patterns, if my pockets were only a mite deeper! They’d likely just gather dust in the closet though — I NEVER wear boots!! 🙂
Necessity dictates that we wear them regularly here. I think we may have to begin building an ark fairly soon, Karen.
My wife still has the wellies she picked up when we lived in England from 1989-1993. They’re still in great shape. I had a wonderful wax coat, as well, but gave it to my son. It’s probably long gone by now. 🙂
Those wax coats are great, MJ. Worn long enough you feel like Theo from The Matrix, standing there dripping in British rain.
What’s interesting about classic items like these is their reinvention for new times and their adaptation for new uses. As well as designer wellies, and the upper class resonance of green wellies, I think of that phrase from the 1990s, “Give it some welly!” (well, I know what it signifies, but why a welly?) and that spurious ‘tradition’, the Throwing the Welly competition (through the legs and backwards I seem to remember). Even its familiar abbreviation speaks of affection, so I’m looking forward to future variations on the theme.
We have learnt to love them, just as we are flanked by out brollies, Chris. Here’s to future welly/brolly diversification…..
Wellies make you feel invincible!
They do, Robin. Makes you want to put a pair on right away, doesn’t it?
My daughter has a darling pink plaid pair.
Oh to need an excuse to wear them!
Oh, to live where they weren’t needed…bucketing down outside as I type….
How left out I feel! I have never owned a pair of Wellies! I have always wanted to, admired them, loved the name and would enjoy puddles! We just don’t have enough rain to even own rain gear…does that sound insensitive while you’re under a deluge? Truthfully, and I mean this, I’m really a bit envious! I love the history behind the name, and even more I enjoy hearing about your remarkable Felix! Debra
Swap, Debra 😀
Puddles are in cahoots(conspiracy) with Satan. They have magnetic power to draw young children right to them and have the children slosh around in the deepest part of the puddle. Especially when they are wearing their very best “Sunday” shoes.
I know! It’s almost as if kids WANT to squelch soggily home….do you get much rain there?
We do love our rainboots, too, though we’ve had quite the opposite stretch of weather. While they’re not actual Wellies, they are quite the thing for puddle-jumping.
Just googled the rain boot, Cameron. They look like very stylish wellies. Hoby would surely approve.
If the English are incredulous towards their rain, Canadians are incredulous to long winters of snow, sleet and wind. I wonder with Olympics not long to get underway, if the 50 metre Wellie dash will be new event. Funny until the other day I didn’t know what Wellies were. With global warming creating strange weather patterns Wellies may in vogue.
We certainly need them right now, Hudson…
the only thing to better that experience is to jump into puddles barefoot! I have seen the most amazing wellies here – real fashion items not meant for mud 🙂
They can be really stylish, Tandy. I like to be able to forget they are on my feet and do what I want, though. Jumping in puddle in South Africa. Must put that on my bucket list.
They are wonderfully practical but I don’t like the rude noises they make when one walks in them – perhaps they’re just not well suited to the Australian east coast climate…
That is quite true, BB. And do you find they walk your socks right out of the boot?
That, and the socks get a bit squelchy, particularly when one jumps in too many puddles 😀