1914 - Princess Mary's Gift Book from which it is alleged Elsie took inspiration for her fairy drawings
1922 - The Coming of the Fairies - Arthur Conan Doyle
1925 - Fairies at work and play - Geoffrey Hodson
1945 - A book of real fairies: The Cottingley photographs and their sequel - Edward L Gardner
1990 - The case of the Cottingley Fairies - Joe Cooper
1982 - Flim Flam - James Randi (Cottingley Fairies among other phenomena)
2009 - Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies by 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 email@example.com)
Also available from Saltaire Bookshop and Media Museum, Bradford
- extract below
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. ©
2012 - The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure Candlewick Press (isbn 9780763656706)
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.
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:
The Absolute Proof. November 1920, Vol. 60, pp. 439 - 445.
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.
March 1921, Vol. 61, pp. 199 - 206. More pictures attempting to prove the genuineness of fairies.- Fairies Photographed. The Cottingley Fairies.
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.
Photo of Frances with the fairies
Photo of Fairy offering a harebell to Elsie
Photo of Frances with the leaping fairy
Photo of Elsie with a gnome
Coloured Photo of Elsie with a gnome
Photo of A fairy Sunbath
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 )
If you would like to know what else the press has had to report about the fairies etc.,over the later years you can access the press cuttings page
Watercolours to see recent paintings "Where Fairytales Begin" Courtesy of Mrs. V. Youell. and
"The Cottingley Fairies" by Terry Saglibene of New York.