The Cottingley Fairies

Fairy Photos

In the early part of the twentieth century the Cottingley Fairies created a sensation. Two young girls, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, reportedly photographed a number of fairies playing in Cottingley Glen, near Bradford.

Here at last was solid, photographic evidence of the existence of fairies. The photographs were declared genuine by none other than the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

The Cottingley Fairy photographs kept everyone guessing until 1981 when Griffiths and Wright admitted they were fakes.

The story inspired the excellent 1997 film "Fairy Tale: A True Story".

Conan Doyle

Although the original fake photographs were taken in 1917, they did not become famous until three years later. Elsie's mother, Polly, attended a local Theosophical Society meeting where she mentioned the photos. These then began to circulate more widely, in particular reaching one Edward Gardner.

In 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was commissioned to write an article about fairies for the Strand Magazine (the same magazine which initially published his Sherlock Holmes stories). Doyle had heard of the Cottingley Fairies and contacted Gardner.

Doyle had a serious interest in spiritualism and paranormal matters. He also had a reputation to protect and was therefore cautious about the Cottingley photos. He examined them carefully and concluded that they were genuine.

The Cottingley Fairies appeared in the November 1920 issue of Strand magazine and were an instant sensation with the magazine selling out.

In 1921, Doyle and Gardner supplied the girls with a new camera and photographic plates which had been secretly marked to prevent switching. The result was that from 24 plates they produced a further three fairy photographs. These were again printed in the Strand Magazine.

Cut Out Fairies

Looking at the Cottingley photographs today one has to wonder how they ever fooled anyone. It's clear that they are in fact simply cut out images. The success of the hoax is even more surprising given that Elsie's father, Arthur Wright, had declared the fairies to be cardboard cut-outs when he first developed the photographs!

Elsie was a talented artist and had simply drawn pictures of fairies. These were based on illustrations in Princess Mary's Gift Book by Arthur Shepperson. They were then cut out and supported on hatpins for the photographs.

Real Fairies?

Griffiths and Wright finally admitted that the fairy photos were faked in an 1982 interview. However they still maintained that even though the photographs were fakes they really had seen fairies in Cottingley Glen.

Were there really fairies in Cottingly? Was this simply a youthful fantasy that the girls came to believe themselves? Or were the fakers determined to have the last laugh and keep us all guessing?

Since both ladies died in the 1980s we'll just have to make our own minds up.