Far out, man: the lava lamp, 1960s icon and stalwart of bedsit chic, celebrates its 50th anniversary

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  • Since its creation 50 years ago, the lava lamp’s image has moved from the ultimate in futuristic hip and focus for transcendental thought, to kitsch emblem of the psychedelic 1960s

    However, even after half a century, its charm remains strong and its design relatively unchanged. Novelty item it may be, but the lava lamp is now firmly considered a design classic.

    The story begins with the invention of the astro lamp by Edward Craven Walker.

    As one would anticipate from the inventor of such a peculiar item, Craven Walker was the embodiment of the English eccentric.

    Apart from inventing the lava lamp, he also made underwater naturist films, flew helicopters, drove a fire engine, was a World War Two pilot, a talented accountant, entertained the cast of the 1960s musical Hair and owned a naturist camp in Dorset.

    Craven Walker’s inspiration came after seeing a homemade egg-timer made out of a cocktail shaker at a Dorset pub. Taking years to develop the formula, original models were made with orange squash bottles and the first lava lamp came to market in 1963.

    The lamps were an instant hit and became one of the defining products of the 1960s, appearing in cult TV series The Prisoner and Dr Who.

    In 1989 the company changed its name, in a beautifully self-referential manouevre, from Crestwell to Mathmos.

    The name came from the schlocky space adventure Barbarella and refers to a seething lake of evil slime, which was itself a shameless mimicking of the lava lamp effect.

    Since then the company has gone from strength to strength, in spite of a change of ownership in the 1990s, and continued to fly the flag for quirky design by expanding its offering of mood lamps to include the Blimp, Jelly and Pop lights.

    But given it has also released a 50th anniversary limited edition, maybe it’s time to revist our student days and proudly bring this great British classic back to our living rooms?

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