Candle Scandal; Why the March of Metrication - and Blunders by the DTI - Have Made It Nearly Impossible to Find a Candle That Still Fits an Imperial Size Holder

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IT IS the curse of the modern dinner party: the wine is open, the guests are mingling, the food is almost ready - but the candles won't fit the candlesticks.

Growing numbers of householders are complaining that their candles wobble around inside the candelabra - threatening to spill wax on to the dinner or even set fire to the napkins - or are too big to be squeezed in at all.

According to retailers across the country, they are being besieged by irate shoppers demanding to know why they can't find candles to match their favourite candlesticks.

The answer, The Mail on Sunday can reveal, is a combination of the metric system and a lack of regulation by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Most candlesticks are made to hold candles with the standard diameter - seven-eighths of an inch - which have adorned palaces and more humble abodes across Britain since 1840. This imperial measurement is the standard of Price's Candles, for decades the dominant force in the British market.

Now, however, Britain is being flooded with cheap candles from Europe and China which are made to metric measurements - meaning they will always be slightly too big or slightly too small for imperial candlesticks.

The problem has been exacerbated by the DTI as it has not introduced any rules requiring manufacturers to say on the box what width their candles are.

Susan Edge, director of the Cheshire-based Candle Supply Company, said: 'Everyone is changing to metric. If you have an older candleholder, it is more difficult to find a candle that will fit.

'We do get a lot of customers coming in with their candleholders to fit the candles. They have difficulties with the change.

'The old imperial sizes are still used for church candles but the mass-produced standard candles are all done on machines and all done in metric sizes.' The change has been driven largely by price: customers buying candles made to the imperial measure have to pay up to [pounds sterling]12.50 - compared with supermarket ' dinner candles' from Portugal at [pounds sterling]3.

Rosey Barnet, artistic director of Glasgow-based Shearer Candles, said: 'We seem to be getting an increasing number of people coming into our retail store complaining that they can no longer get candles to fit their holders. …