Billed by its publisher as ‘entertaining and eccentric history-cum-humour for the Christmas market’, which I presume is a way of saying it will find itself in the sort of loos that keep libraries, A Short History of the Wellington Boot is like the dress so beloved of mildly sexist after-dinner speakers in search of a familiar simile: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to remain interesting.
I never knew that Paddington Bear only acquired his red rubber boots in 1972, when the character was merchandised and it was discovered that the soft toy was unable to stand up without boots. Nor was I aware of the film Welly Girls, which offers aficionados ‘sensational lesbian Welly Boot action’. I was equally ignorant of the fact that nineteenth-century gamekeepers used to keep their feet dry using boots made of bullock bladders. And then there was the revelation that ‘in Alaska the brown and yellow Wellington boot, known as Extra Tufs, became so popular that they were worn with jeans to cocktail parties’, but then why shouldn’t Alaskans hold cocktail parties?
From Alaska to China there are rubber boots all over the world, but only in Britain would a study of them be published. Adam Edwards handles his subject with affection and idiosyncratic élan, tongue sufficiently in cheek to prevent his book from sinking into the bathetic quasi-academese which afflicts some