~The Cottingley Fairies Were Real~

"No flaw has been found in the Cottingley Fairy story." -Westminster Gazette, 21st January 1921

Interestingly, in the 1980’s, Ronnie Bennett, a forester in Cottingley Woods, came forward with a fairy encounter he had while working in the Cottingley Estate Woods:

When they showed themselves about nine years ago there was a slight drizzle around. I saw three fairies in the woods and I have never seen them since. They were just about ten inches tall and just stared at me. There is no way the Cottingley Fairies is a hoax.

"It was a wet Saturday afternoon and we were just mooching about with our cameras and Elsie had nothing prepared. I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph."

"Fairy crosses." Harper's Weekly, 50-715:

That, near the point where the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains unite, north of Patrick County, Virginia, many little stone crosses have been found.

A race of tiny beings.

They crucified cockroaches.

Exquisite beings—but the cruelty of the exquisite. In their diminutive way they were human beings.

 They crucified.



Books about the Cottingley Fairies

  1. 1914 - Princess Mary's Gift Book from which it is alleged Elsie took inspiration for her fairy drawings
  2. 1922 - The Coming of the Fairies - Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. 1925 - Fairies at work and play - Geoffrey Hodson
  4. 1945 - A book of real fairies: The Cottingley photographs and their sequel - Edward L Gardner
  5. 1990 - The case of the Cottingley Fairies - Joe Cooper
  6. 1982 - Flim Flam - James Randi (Cottingley Fairies among other phenomena)
  7. 2009 - Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies - Frances Griffiths (isbn 978-1-8992 28-06-5) in her own words with additional material by her daughter Christine - £8.99 (postage/packing + £1.50 UK. + £2.50 Europe, + £3.99 Rest of World - More than 1 copy please request p&p rates) from Christine Lynch at JMJ Publications, 1 Thornhill, Malone, Belfast, BT9 6SS or email orders AT cottingleyreflections.com)
    Also available from Saltaire Bookshop and Media Museum, Bradford
    - extract below
  8. 2012 - The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World - Mary Losure Candlewick Press (isbn 9780763656706)
  9. 2017 New Novel based on the Cottingley Fairies "The Cottingley Secret" by Hazel Gaynor is now on sale
First Sighting

Elsie was working at that time because I was up the beck alone quite a lot after school. It was good to sit quietly on the willow branch and listen to the sound of the water, the odd bee buzzing and an occasional splash as a frog plunged into a deep pool.
I suppose I must have been day dreaming one day when I looked across the beck and saw a willow leaf twirling around rapidly, moving as it were, on its own. I did think it odd, as there was no breeze. I had never seen a leaf do that before, but then everything here was new to me and I thought no more about it at the time.
That was the beginning, although at the time I didn't realise it. The leaf was being held by a little man. The first time I saw the little man - he was about eighteen inches high - he was walking purposefully down the bank on the willow side of the beck, holding a willow leaf in his hand, twiddling it very fast as he crossed the water to the other side. I wasn't unduly surprised - the beck was a wonderful place and I wouldn't have been surprised at anything that happened there.
I am writing sixty-six years after the leaf incident and I cannot remember how long after this that I saw the real reason the leaf behaved in such a strange manner.
It was early summer and the weather was still fine as I sat on the overhanging willow branch, feet dangling in the water, and saw a little man walking with high steps towards me. As he reached the first branch of the willow he lifted his hand and, although I saw him do it many times afterwards, a leaf just came into his hand. A stem or a leaf of a tree is usually tough and needs a good tug to pull it off, but he seemed to just reach up and pick a leaf as easily as you or I would pick a bluebell. He held the leaf in his hand and twirled it round just as before, walking down to the beck and crossing it. Now to me, this did seem odd!
With all my experience of boats made of tree bark or rotten wood, I knew instinctively that if he had weight he would go down with the current, but he just strolled across the beck and then gave a little hop onto the bank at the other side. At the time I thought nothing about it, but later I did wonder about his feet seeming to walk on water, but didn't know what to make of it.
He had a rugged face, similar I would think to the faces of the railway carters who delivered goods on wagons driven by those lovely old Shire horses. He wasn't ugly, but neither did he have a friendly face. He just looked as if he was going about a job of work.
Once I saw him leading three or four little men who were dressed as he was, in a green jerkin and darker-coloured green loose-fitting tights - rather like our young people wear their Levis today! They all walked very purposefully and when they had crossed the beck they turned towards the right. I watched them until they went behind a clump of willow herb and were lost from sight.
I didn't tell Elsie for a long time. This was my secret ‐ mine alone ‐ and I didn't want to share it. Elsie had never mentioned seeing the little men when they came whilst she was there. They must have known we were there, because the first time I saw the little man on his own, he gave me a good hard stare before going on his way. Never again did any of them indicate that they could see us ‐ but I was aware that they could. 2009 - Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies - Frances Griffiths (isbn 978-1-8992 28-06-5)

Fairies in surrounding areas

Around Bingley there used to be, and possibly there still is, a strong belief in the existence of fairies. In Gilstead Crags there was an opening in the rocks known as "Fairies Hole", and it was said that the tiny creatures used to trip and dance and play their merry antics in the bright moonlight. Anyone who intruded at such a time, it was said would lose their sight. At Harden, in a secluded part of Deep Cliff, it is said that the fairies could sometimes be heard clanging musical tongs and what looked like tiny white garments hung out on the trees could be seen on bright nights. Chronicles & Stories of Bingley and District by Harry Speight- 1904

The Story

In 1916/17 Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two young girls living in Cottingley, produced the most famous fairy pictures in Britain which are still talked about today.

The first photograph was taken in July 1917 and showed Frances with the fairies.

Frances and Elsie had been teased about their story of seeing fairies near Cottingley Beck. Elsie borrowed her father's quarter plate camera ,which he set to 1/50s at f/11 for her, and after some rudimentary instruction on how to operate it, she went off with Frances into the area where the beck ran among the trees behind the family home. An hour later they returned triumphant.

When Mr. Arthur Wright (one of the earliest qualified electrical engineers), and Elsie went into the dark room that evening to develop the plate, there were the fairies. Arthur asked what those bits of paper were doing on the picture?

The second photograph of the gnome resulted in the girls being banned from borrowing the camera again. The photographs were put away by Mr. Wright in a drawer as he considered them to be pranks. (Mrs. Wright was convinced of their authenticity.)

In 1918 Frances wrote to her friend Johanna Parvin in South Africa and enclosed a copy of the photograph. On the back of the photo she had written 'Elsie and I are friendly with the beck fairies. Funny, I never used to see them in Africa. It must be too hot for them there. The letter from Frances ran thus: '. . . all think the war will be over in a few days, we are going to get our flags to hang up in our bedroom. I am sending you two photos, both of me, one is me in a bathing costume in our back yard, uncle Arthur took that, while the other is me with some fairies up the beck, Elsie took that one. Rosebud is as fat as ever and I have made her some new clothes. How are Teddy and dolly?' In her letter to Johanna, Frances was more interested in talking about the war and her dolls and the photo with the fairies was given but scant and matter of fact reporting. As if seeing fairies was to her an every day occurrence of little importance.

Three years later Mrs Wright went to a folklore lecture in Bradford with a friend. This lecture included references to fairies and following the lecture in conversation with her friend mentioned the fairy pictures. They were overheard by a friend of Edward Gardner, a leading theosophist, and Edward asked to see them.

Fred Barlow, a leading authority on psychic photography, commented to Gardner in June 1920 - 'I am inclined to think, in the absence of more detailed particulars, that the photograph showing the four dancing fairies is not what it is claimed to be....' and in December 1920 - 'I am returning herewith the three fairy photographs you very kindly loaned to me, and have no hesitation in announcing them as the most wonderful and interesting results I have ever seen.'

Gardner sought a photographer who had the ability to examine the photographs fully and so it was that Harold Snelling came to his notice. He was informed that 'What Snelling doesn't know about faked photographs isn't worth knowing.' Snelling's considered judgement, in his letter to Edward Gardner of July 31 1920, was 'These two negatives are entirely genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures, etc. In my opinion, they are both straight untouched pictures.'

Mr. Gardner asked Snelling to make contact positives and two lantern slides of the photographs. These lantern slides were shown by him at a lantern lecture at Mortimer Halls, London. Through this the photographs came to the notice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

On hearing of Mr. Snelling's opinion, it was proposed, and agreed, that if the negatives survived a second expert's judgment, preferably Kodak's, then Edward Gardner and Conan Doyle should join forces and make the photographs a leading feature in the Strand article. Accordingly an appointment was made with Kodak's manager. They were received by Mr. West, the manager. His studio chief and two other expert photographers were also present. The negatives were examined by all at some length, and the results of the inspection were as follows, all agreeing.

  1. The negatives are single exposure.
  2. The plates show no sign of being faked work, but that cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of genuineness.
  3. Kodak's were not willing to give any certificate concerning them because photography lent itself to a multitude of processes, and some clever operator might have made them artificially.
  4. The studio chief added that he thought the photographs might have been made by using the glen features and the girl as a background; then enlarging prints from these and painting in the figures; then taking half-plate and finally quarter-plate snaps, suitably lighted. All this, he agreed, would be clever work and take time.
  5. A remark made by one was that 'after all, as fairies couldn't be true, the photographs must have been faked somehow.'
    They came from Kodak's without a certificate. It was decided there and then that one of them would go to Yorkshire, interview the family in their home environment.

Edward Gardner then travelled to Cottingley and spoke to Mrs. Wright and Elsie, who answered his questions willingly and candidly. He spoke separately to Mr. Wright later the same day and found him to be of forthright speech and character and having a cheerful disposition. Mr Wright told Mr. Gardner that he had been so convinced at the time that the figures must be made of paper or something like paper, that while the children were out he searched their bedroom for some sign and he also searched the glen and waterfall. But in neither the house nor the glen did he find anything. Mr. Wright agreed to the Strand publication as long as proper names were not used. Sir Arthur had wished to make some monetary payment for this but Mr. Wright very firmly declined, saying that if the photographs were genuine they shouldn't be soiled by being paid for!

In 1920 The Strand magazine published an article entitled "An Epoch Making Event - Fairies Photographed", (the publication sold out within days), and so began a controversy which raged on for nigh on a century.
The articles in The Strand:

  1. The Absolute Proof. November 1920, Vol. 60, pp. 439 - 445.
  2. December 1920, Vol. 60, pp. 463 - 468. Doyle's acceptance and publication of pictures showing young girls photographed with fairies caused a sensation and great controversy.
  3. March 1921, Vol. 61, pp. 199 - 206. More pictures attempting to prove the genuineness of fairies. - Fairies Photographed. The Cottingley Fairies.
  4. February 1923, Vol. 65, p. 105- The Evidence for Fairies.

In 1921 Conan Doyle arranged for Geoffrey Hodson, a medium, to come to Cottingley, sit with the girls, in the hope that even stronger shapes would materialize. In August 1921 Mr Hodson reported seeing wood elves under some beech trees as well as dancing fairies in the field. These incidents are reported in his book 'Fairies at Work and Play'. He also states in his book 'I am personally convinced of the bona fides of the two girls who took these photographs. I spent some weeks with them and their family, and became assured of the genuineness of their clairvoyance, of the presence of fairies, exactly like those photographed, in the glen at Cottingly(sic), and of the complete honesty of all parties concerned.'

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, was entirely convinced by the photographs and to demonstrate his unshakeable belief in the spirit world, he published The Coming of the Fairies in 1922. It recounted the story of the photographs, their supposed provenance, and the implications of their existence.

Frances moved to Scarborough in the 1920's and Elsie worked at several jobs mainly with an artistic background.

Elsie eventually emigrated to the USA where she met her husband Frank Hill. They moved to India and lived there until 1949. They then settled back in England in the Midlands with their son.

Frances married a soldier in 1928 - Sydney Way - and after many postings overseas finally settled in Ramsgate.

Over the years Elsie stated constantly that, although the fairies were wonderful, she needed to try to forget all about them. She said that down the years she got fed up of talking about them.

Elsie and Frances remained tight-lipped until 17th February 1983 when Elsie admitted in a letter of confession that the photographs were a hoax, claiming that they had drawn the fairies, cut them out and fastened them to the ground with hatpins. So that was that!

Or was it? The mystery still lives on with many people still believing that the Cottingley fairies existed. Frances maintained in her last television appearance in 1986 that 'there were fairies at Cottingley'.

Elsie died in April 1988 and Frances died in July 1986. They gave us a story that has stood the test of time and has done no harm to anyone. It may be that the real hoax was 'the confession', made in the hope that they could spare their families from the press, and that somewhere in the spirit world they are both having the 'last' laugh.

Even today these photographs continue to mystify and fascinate the world. All this with the first photograph that a young girl took.

In 1990 Joe Cooper's book "The Case of the Cottingley Fairies" was published. He investigated the whole story and Colin Wilson in the foreword to the book states that it is "as near as we shall ever come to the complex truth behind the case of the Cottingley Fairies".

A Warner Bros Film "Fairy Tale - A True Story" held its British premiere in Bradford in 1998 which tells the story of Frances and Elsie.

Frances was born 1907 and following the fairy affair returned to Scarborough. She always maintained that at least one of the photos was not fake. She died in 1986.

Elsie was born 1900. Due to hounding by the English press following the fairy story, she went to America, married and eventually returned to Britain. She died in 1988 at the age of 88.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (born 1859) died on 7th July 1930

Edward Gardner died in 1970 at the age of 100.

Geoffey Hodson born 12 March 1886 died at age 96 on 23 January 1983

In the 1980's a former wrestler (Ronnie Bennett) and then forester in Cottingley Woods, admitted to having seen fairies in the woods. He claimed he saw the elf-like figures while working in the Cottingley Estate Woods. "When they showed themselves about nine years ago there was a slight drizzle around. I saw three fairies in the woods and I have never seen them since. They were just about ten inches tall and just stared at me. There is no way the Cottingley Fairies is a hoax."

Geoffrey Crawley tells his personal story of the longest running photography hoax carried out by two Yorkshire schoolgirls in the British Journal of Photography.5/1/2000. Unfortunately this article is no longer available on line. A transcript is available for perusal at the Cottingley Town Hall Heritage Day

Geoffrey Crawley was born on 10th December 1926 and died on 29th October 2010. An obituary to Mr Crawley appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 8th November 2010

Joe Cooper, who researched the fairy story and wrote the book "The Case of the Cottingley Fairies" which was published in 1990, died on 16th August 2011 at the age of 87

Movies About Faeries:

Where are the negatives and photographs now?

  • In 1972 Stewart Sanderson of Leeds University persuaded Leslie Gardner (son of E. L. Gardner) to donate Cottingley Fairy correspondence and the five glass plates of the fairies to the Brotherton Collection at Leeds University, where they are still housed. (1972 was 50 years after the first publication of the fairies photos). It is understood that E. L. Gardner persuaded the Wright family to sign over copyright of the photos to him when he took away the original plates.
  • In 1972 Elsie sold 2 cameras and 5 original photographs at auction. They were bought by S. J. Robinson and he in turn passed these on to Geoffrey Crawley.
  • In 1998 Geoffrey Crawley's collection of Cottingley Fairy Photographs, two of the cameras used by the girls, 3 waterolour sketches by Elsie of Fairies, a letter from Elsie to Geoffrey Crawley (1988) and a book 'The Coming of the Fairies' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1st Edition 1922) were due to be auctioned at Chrisites on 19th March 1998 but were withdrawn from sale by the vendor, purchased by public subscription and donated to the National Media Museum at Bradford. These are all available to be viewed and there are frequent gallery talks about them. The cameras etc and a reproduction of one of the photographs are on display in their Kodak Gallery on the history of popular photography. The photographs themselves are housed in Insight - their Collections and Research Centre and anyone who wishes to is welcome to make an appointment to go and see them. This can be done via their website: (www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/Collections/Insight.asp) or by getting in touch in person. Copies of these photographs held at SSPL are subject to reproductive copyright
  • July 16th 1998 Frances' collection of a boxed set of 37 glass slides of the fairy pictures, together with a signed first edition of Conan Doyle's book "The Coming of the Fairies", were auctioned by Sothebys and were purchased by a London bookseller for £21,620. Both lots were sold on to private buyers in America. (See Reference 1 and Reference 2)
  • In 2001, An 84-year old photographic archive relating to the celebrated Cottingley Fairies hoax fetched £;6,000 at auction. The collection of glass plates and other negatives, was bought by an unnamed buyer at the Bonhams & Brooks auction in London's Knightsbridge. The archive consisted of master copies of the original photographs along with a three-page commentary by Gardner, who commissioned photography experts to prove that the pictures were not faked. It included previously unpublished pictures of Elsie and Frances holding hands and posing with Arthur and Polly Wright. Gardner had passed this collection on to the British Theosophical Society, from where they were handed down to a series of owners until their present owner (reportedly Hodson) put them up for sale.
  • The only known surviving contact print from the original Arthur Wright negative (unfortunately very frail and not in very good condition) is owned by J. Mawson.
  • Original copies of the photographs were on sale in the late 1990's at a photography gallery in Massachusetts. They were reputed to come from Edward Gardner's collection. The copy mentioned is mounted on a heavy/stiff brown paper with set type stating "D. Fairy offering flowers to Iris. Copyright. Photograph taken August 1920." The measurements are : Mount: 20.5cm high x 15.3cm wide. Image: 15.5 high x 11.5 wide.
    I am grateful to John L Rossetti for this information
  • Photo on heavy brown paper with set type stating B. IRIS AND THE GNOME Copyright. Photo taken 1917. This photo was in A Reed's posession. Mount is 19.1cm high and 14cm wide. Photo is 15.5cm high and 11cm wide.
    PROVENANCE: Mary Elisa Riddick (c.1914-2006), member of the Theosophical Society, and friend of Edward Gardner (and probably a gift from him)
    July 17th 2008 This photograph of Iris and the Gnome was sold at Sothebys for in excess of £2000.
  • 4th January 2009 - Antiques Roadshow - Frances' camera and 3 contact prints brought in by her daughter and granddaughter, were shown and valued.
    Frances had told her daughter that some photos were missing from her collection
  • Two photos mounted on heavy brown paper (provenance yet to be verified) are in a private collection in the Czech Republic owned by Kapounova & Smith
  • Sally O'Hare from New Zealand informs me that she has a copyright photo of one of the fairy photos
  • Other copies which were given to friends by Elsie and Frances remain in private ownership. It is not known how many of these still exist. If you know of any more please email margaret.krupa AT gmail.com

Quotes from Periodicals at the time

The day we kill our Santa Claus with our statistics we shall have plunged a glorious world into deepest darkness' and a Welsh proverb was quoted 'Tis true as the fairy tales told in books. South Wales Argus - November 1920

Yorkshire Post - 6 December 1920 - The Curious case of the Cottingley fairies

For the true explanation of these fairy photographs what is wanted is not a knowledge of occult phenomena but a knowledge of children. Truth Periodical - January 1921
It seems at this point that we must either believe in the almost incredible mystery of the fairy or in the almost incredible wonders of faked photographs. City News - January 1921
No flaw has been found in the Cottingley Fairy story. Westminster Gazette 12th & 21st January 1921

Cape Town link in world controversy - startling sequel to an Argus article - remarkable letter in support of Sir A. C. Doyle. (5 column article followed including the following paragraph

The plain fact surely is that, however sceptical you may be about the existence of fairies, the production of this letter written by Frances Griffiths, a former Cape Town girl, to Johanna Parvin, at Woodstock, in November 1918, is a valuable piece of evidence in support of Sir A. C. Doyle's story. And for this reason. It was not until 1920 that this photograph began to attract attention. Yet for two years before Sir Arthur had seen this photograph, a similar photograph had been lying at Woodstock, Cape Town, sent from one girl friend to another with far less comment than was displayed in writing about their several dolls! . . . Isn't the very intimate and insignificant detail of it, the very off-hand manner in which a world phenomenon is dismissed in a couple of lines - isn't all this the best kind of evidence possible that, two years before Conan Doyle ever started this controversy, Frances Griffiths believed implicitly in the existence of fairies: so implicitly indeed as to discuss them with no more surprise or emphasis than she discussed her dad, her dolls, and the war? Cape Argus 25th November 1922

Other Quotes

I'm often asked what was my favourite Roadshow moment and I think the Cottingley fairies has to be it. It was so unexpected and so exciting, one of those moments that still sends shivers down my spine. During the filming I felt that I might not get through the item, such was its impact on me. Paul Atterbury, Antiques Roadshow Highlights (April 2009)

Some Unanswered Questions

  • If the images were cut outs of either paper or card how were they disposed of without anyone noticing?
  • Wouldn't Elsie's father have searched high and low for any clues?
  • Cut outs would leave mutilated magazines or remnants from paper drawings - why were none found?
  • Surely it would be difficult for children to make sure all traces were disposed of without anyone noticing.
  • Pictures cut out of paper or card always show the white edge of the paper - anyone practising decoupage knows this
  • How were the wings made transparent?
  • Why didn't the hat pins show through paper or thin card?
  • Is it believable that all the photos were taken without any hitches? It would be difficult to get rid of any "mistakes" with the type of plates and film used at that time.

In his book "The Coming of the Fairies" Conan Doyle states at the end of Chapter 3 -

It may be added that in the course of exhibiting these photographs (in the interests of the Theosophical bodies with which Mr. Gardner is connected), it has sometimes occurred that the plates have been enormously magnified upon the screen. In one instance, at Wakefield, the powerful lantern used threw an exceptionally large picture on a huge sheet. The operator, a very intelligent man who had taken a sceptical attitude, was entirely converted to the truth of the photographs, for, as he pointed out, such an enlargement would show the least trace of a scissors irregularity or of any artificial detail, and would make it absurd to suppose that a dummy figure could remain undetected. The lines were always beautifully fine and unbroken.

Other Associated Photographs

Cameras on display
at Cottingley Town Hall Heritage Day
Cameras on display at Cottingley Town Hall Heritage Day

grave in Scholemoor Cemetery

Frances' grave in Scholemoor Cemetery
photo courtesy M. Atack

Dim vales—and shadowy floods—
 And cloudy-looking woods,
Whose forms we can’t discover
 For the tears that drip all over:
Huge moons there wax and wane—
Every moment of the night—
 Forever changing places—
And they put out the star-light
 With the breath from their pale faces.
About twelve by the moon-dial,
 One more filmy than the rest
(A kind which, upon Trial,
 They have found to be the best)
Comes down—still down—and down
 With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence,
 While its wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
 Over hamlets, over halls,
Wherever they may be—
 O’er the strange woods—o’er the sea—
Over spirits on the wing—
 Over every drowsy thing—
And buries them up quite
 In a Labyrinth of light—
And then, how, deep! —O, deep,
 Is the passion of their sleep.
In the morning they arise,
 And their moony covering
Is soaring in the skies,
 With the tempests as they toss,
Like—almost any thing—
 Or a yellow Albatross.
They use that moon no more
 For the same end as before,
Videlicet, a tent—
 Which I think extravagant:
Its atomies, however,
 Into a shower dissever,
Of which those butterflies
 Of Earth, who seek the skies,
And so come down again
 (Never-contented things!)
Have brought a specimen
 Upon their quivering wings.