Hunter's, wellingtons to the gentry, mired in trouble as fortunes slide

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The Independent Online

Their green wellies have been an essential part of the smart country set's wardrobe for 150 years.

But despite Royal patronage and a host of celebrity customers the future of Hunter's wellington boots is in doubt after The Hunter Rubber Company went into administration, leaving more than 100 jobs under threat.

The firm, which is based in Dumfries and is one of the town's biggest employers, currently holds Royal Warrants from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

But in spite of a reported turnover of about £8.3m, accountants from KPMG said the firm suffered from high manufacturing costs, including fuel costs, and made a loss from the expansion of its business to the United States.

According to documents filed with Companies House, Hunter reported a loss of £600,000 from September 2003 to the end of February 2005, when it had a net debt of £2.03m.

While Hunter's wellingtons have been a staple of traditional British country life, celebrities including Kate Moss and Madonna have adopted the practical footwear in recent years.

The firm has been making wellington boots in Scotland since 1856, when the North British Rubber Company was founded. It began using a new process of curing, or vulcanising, natural rubber to create the fully waterproof effect.

Production took off at the outbreak of the First World War, when the company was asked by the government to make a boot suitable for use by troops in flooded trenches.

Richard Fleming, Howard Smith and Blair Nimmo of KPMG's Corporate Recovery practice, which has been appointed joint administrators, said the company had diversified its product range in recent months, also making hats and jackets, in an effort to stay afloat. But sales of the new lines had been poorer than forecast.

"That's been a contributory factor to the administration," said a spokesman for KPMG.

They added that the company would continue to trade while a buyer was sought.

Mr Fleming said: "Our first priority is to assess the situation at Hunter Rubber Company, whilst it continues to trade. We will be looking to sell the business and are confident this will be achieved, as the Hunter brand is held in such high esteem worldwide."

Hunter makes up to 200,000 pairs of Wellies a year with hand-made, designer versions costing hundreds of pounds a pair.

Most of the company's 101 employees work in Scotland, although a further two are employed in London and the US.

The wellington boot was first popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and quickly became fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

The Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St James Street in London , to modify the 18th century hessian boot and the resulting new boot was designed in soft calfskin leather and cut closely around the leg.