Dave Allen was a mere 15 years old when he began work at the Chrysaline light factory in Berkhamsted in 1959.
Chrysaline Ltd was a company which made domestic lampshades for the furniture market. They employed around 30 workers and were located in old garages and workshops, now the site of the Waitrose car park.
The lampshades were unique as their manufacturing involved spraying a non-rigid plastic onto a wire frame.
In 1959, The Regent Street Traders Association met with Chrysaline’s chairman and designer Mr Beverly Pick to commission an illuminated display with the intention of drawing Christmas shoppers to London’s West End.
The chosen design included 25 chandeliers, each housing 684 lamps and 32 tinsel garlands interspersed amongst minute bulbs. This enabled the slightest breeze to cause them to twinkle brilliantly.
Chrysaline’s garage accommodation was too small to assemble these large lanterns. Fortunately, East and Son Saw Mill in Gossoms End came to the rescue and made one of their seasoning sheds available.
The chandeliers were delivered on time for the official switch on and produced the intended wow factor.
Press reports at the time stated that Regent Street was at a standstill as drivers stopped their vehicles to step out and look up at the spectacle. A spokesperson for London Transport said that buses ran up to 50 minutes late, but passengers were not complaining.
Dave said: “It was 15 years since the blackouts during the war, so an elaborate light display was a real novelty for people. The 1959 lights opened the door to the kind of grandeur we’re familiar with today. People were starting to spend money again after the hardship of the war. Going to the West End to take in the lights became a trip out for people.”
It was such a success that the following year, Chrysaline was invited to illuminate the West End once again. That same year, Chrysaline relocated its factory to a new building at the Waterside in Chesham, which, with its higher roof, was far more suitable for the extra volume of work.
Chrysaline also expanded to make illuminated decorations for Blackpool.
The tradition of the West End lights continues today and is still very much part of the London Christmas festivities.