Looking back through history, it all seems to have started in the eighteenth century when a boot called the Hessian boot, initially used by the military, became widely worn by everybody else. Hessian boots had a low heel, quite a pointed toe (useful for mounted troops for ease of using the stirrups) and were knee high.
This style of boot became popular amongst the British aristocracy in the nineteenth century and it was the first Duke of Wellington that popularised it. The Duke had his own version of the Hessian boot made. There were many alterations and the resulting style is nothing like the wellington boots we know today, but his new boot was dubbed “The Wellington” and the name lives on today.
“The Wellington” was still made of leather and remained very fashionable in Britain until the mid nineteenth century. Then in 1853 a man called Hiram Hutchinson started making them out of rubber and established his company Aigle who are of course still going today in France. The new waterproof rubber wellington was very popular among agricultural workers in France.
Then it was the two World Wars that dramatically inflated a need for waterproof knee high boots, and lots of them! Soldiers were in need of suitable footwear for the flooded trenches and it was the North British Rubber Company (now Hunter Boot Limited) that came to the rescue. When the wars were over, the Wellington had become very popular among men, women and children as the best footwear for wet weather.
What makes them so British is of course the influence of the weather, they really were and still are essential footwear for outdoor life on a rainy island.
Aside from the two World Wars and the weather, the other big influence was by a member of the aristocracy again. It was the Duke of Wellington in the eighteenth century and the Princess of Wales in the twentieth. When the Princess was photographed wearing Hunter wellies, a brand new welly craze began all over again.
So they really are a very British type of footwear. Waterproof footwear that is expected to be inexpensive, durable (lasting at least twenty years!), comfortable and easy.
British people nowadays buy little canvas houses for their beloved wellies and children positively think they are alive. Every child has at least five books in their collection that feature wellies. Children also love them because they can put them on themselves from a young age and can splash in puddles without being told off for getting their shoes or clothes wet.