In 1856 American entrepreneurs, Henry Lee Norris and his partner Spencer Thomas Parmelee landed in Glasgow. Norris had a licence from Charles Goodyear to use his vulcanisation process in Scotland to manufacture India-rubber boots and overshoes.
After failing to find a suitable site in Glasgow, Norris and Parmelee leased the former Castle Silk Mills factory in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge.
The site was ideal for the rubber entrepreneurs in a hurry as it had suitable steam engines and boilers, and was close both to the Union Canal as a source of water for production processes and the new Caledonian Railway linking the city to Glasgow and the South.
Because rubber was such a revolutionary material with new applications arising almost on a daily basis, within a year of the start of operations the North British Rubber Company had added belting, hose, and mechanical articles to its original product line of boots and overshoes (goloshes). It was later said that the only product using rubber that the North British Rubber Company did not make was tennis balls.
From 1875, the North British Rubber Company manufactured solid rubber tyres, each weighing 750 lbs., for R W Thomson’s traction engines known as road steamers. The first set was fitted and tested on roads between the factory and Balerno in 1875.
The world’s first pneumatic tyre or ‘Aerial Wheels’ were leather tyres with India rubber inner tubes covered with rubberised canvas. Fitted on to horse drawn carriages, they made for a significantly smoother and quieter ride.
On 21st October 1890, Bartlett took out a patent for beaded edge tyres which could hook securely to a wheel's rim by using compressed air in the tyre. The North British Rubber Company started manufacturing them as the Clincher tyre. The Clincher transformed the popularity of cycling as for the first time the tyre could be quickly removed and replaced. It is still the basis of the bicycle tyre today.
During the first half of the 20th century product lines included sheeting, matting, flooring, car mats, hose, conveyor belts, extrusions (tubing, weatherstrips etc.), expansion joints, dock fenders, mouldings (engine mounts, piston rings etc.), timing belts and other car parts, hot water bottles, gym shoes, seals, bathing caps, clothing, X-ray aprons, rubber bed sheets, canvas and waterproof footwear including Wellingtons, golf balls, printers’ blankets, cycle, pram and motor car tyres, jam jar rims, hose pipes, carpet underlay, rubber deck flooring for passenger liners, door mats, bath mats, ferrules for walking sticks and crutches, ‘squeegee’ mops, ladies’ fur trimmed overshoes, fishermen’s waders, table and teapot mats, insulating tape, rubber gloves, dog balls, umbrella rings, tea pot spouts, protection for horses’ fetlocks, advertising and other air balloons and the rubberised covering for the wings of early aircraft.
The Original Green Welly
Production of wellington boots were dramatically boosted with the advent of World War I when the company was asked by the War Office to construct a sturdy boot suitable for the conditions in flooded trenches. The mills ran day and night to produce immense quantities of these trench boots. In total, 1,185,036 pairs were made to cope with the Army's demands.
In 1955, the North British Rubber Company launched two new boots, the Green Hunter (the Original Hunter) and the Royal Hunter. Originally designed as orthopaedic boots, they were slow to take off, an order for 36 pairs considered to be large. They became fashionable with the country set thanks to a sustained sales effort to find new markets for them. They are the origin of the phrase ‘the green welly brigade.’
Hunters won Royal approval with separate warrants from the Queen and Prince Philip. After Lady Diana sported a pair of Hunter Originals in her engagement photographs of 1981, a pair of Hunters became a ‘must have’ for the Sloane Rangers.
In early 2004, for the first time in its 148-year existence, Hunter became an independent, standalone company under the name of the Hunter Rubber Company. Today, almost a decade after Kate Moss wore a pair of Hunters to Glastonbury in 2005, the fashion follower and festival goers continue to drive sales of the heritage brand.