The ‘Irn’ Duke
You can’t imagine a tour of Glasgow without seeing the statue of Viscount Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), 1st Duke of Wellington, atop a horse wearing a traffic cone as a hat.
Though born in Dublin he never considered himself Irish and even claimed that "because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse". He was granted a dukedom for his supreme generalship during the Napoleonic Wars. But after the victory in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 he cried when reading the list of dead. He was upset by the sight of battle bloodshed and never glorified warfare. Having reached his peak after Waterloo, Wellington retired from the battlefield aged 46. He was twice British prime minister.
Arthur Wellesley was also a trend setter of his time. While others wore wigs or pigtails, he had a short haircut more for practical reasons. Later on the fashion was adopted by soldiers.
Another, much more famous fashionable invention of Wellington’s was his boots.
In the 1790s British officers wore Hessian boots called after the German mercenaries who fought alongside the British in the American War of Independence (1775–83). Made of soft, highly polished calfskin, they were knee high, decorated with a tassel and cut into the front.
Since the end 18th century, soldiers that served in hot climates began to wear lightweight and tight-fitting linen trousers, instead of their woolen breeches. This fashion came to Britain in the beginning of the 19th century. But it was difficult to wear them with the Hessians that had tassels.
‘The Iron Duke’ asked his shoemaker to redesign a boot to make it easier to wear with the new trousers. The tassel was removed and the boots were cut lower.
This novel ‘Wellington’ boot became a basic hunting and outdoor wear for the British aristocracy eager to emulate their war hero. It remained fashionable until the Duke’s death in 1853, but had declined in popularity by 1860 when the ankle boot took over. However, the boot was used even in the Crimean and First World War.
Wellington boots were at first made of leather. Nevertheless in 1852 a man called Hiram Hutchinson met Charles Goodyear, who had just invented the vulcanisation process for natural rubber. While Goodyear decided to manufacture tyres, Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear and moved to France to establish À l’Aigle (To the Eagle) in 1853.
In 1856 Henry Lee Norris, an American entrepreneur from Jersey City came to Scotland with a friend to manufacture Britain’s first rubber or ‘gum’ boots believing it was an appropriate place due to the rainy weather. They landed in Glasgow and searched for a suitable factory, which eventually was found in Edinburgh. The business was called The North British Rubber Company.
With the name of the duke still retaining a patriotic pull on consumers, the new boots were soon renamed Wellingtons.
With the First World War the boot became really popular among the soldiers. In 1916 the company was commissioned to produce millions of pairs for winter, to prevent ‘trench foot’, a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure to damp.
After the war they were used for civil purposes in the farms and gardens.
In the Second World War (along with waders) the armed forces again used vast quantities of rubber wellington boots.
The year 1956 marks the creation of the Original Green Wellington, a style later became known as the Original boot.
Today the boots are still handcrafted from 28 parts, and they are a must-have in the wardrobe of a trendy person.
Statues of Wellington can be found all over Britain, and one of them stands right in the centre of Glasgow which you can see on our most popular Glasgow Tour. Since the 1980s the locals with a good sense of humour started to put a traffic cone on its head that led it to be included in the "top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth" according to the Lonely Planet guide. On some occasions the duke’s horse also wears a cone!