Cottingley Fairies – truth or fake?
‘A rational person doesn’t see fairies.’
The biggest misconception of the fairy race are that people think they are little creatures with tiny little wings and bathed in moonlight, that they are mystical and magical and can grant people wishes, sprinkle fairy dust and are happy little beings.
Captain Jack Harkness however didn’t believe all of that and called them malignant wraiths.
Gwen Cooper didn’t believe in them at all. She stated that the Cottingley fairies were fakes and that writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was ‘gaga at the time’ and his good friend Harry Houdini ‘was a self publicist’.
So is there any truth in their existence? Or are we letting our imagination run away with us?
As children we were fed tales of magical creatures and we read further their adventures with a voracious appetite. Our parents especially those who were brought up in the countryside told us tales of the small folk who lived in amongst the brambles, and the fields, told us never to step in fairy rings, never to jump in the middle of one, close our eyes and turn three times, or we’d never come back home again. They scared us with tales of magical far off places where winged creatures ruled over others, and that we could only dream about visiting.
But were they just tales, or were our parents the lucky ones who escaped and were merely protecting the younger, most vulnerable of the species, their children.
Fairies after all were children once, weren’t they?
In Small Worlds the faeries were depicted as white fluttering creatures, dancing around the stone circle in the middle of the forest, bathed in moonlight, but then they transformed into hideous tall green creatures with stick thin legs and wings and clawed hands and mischievous childish green faces, who for the rest of the episode caused chaos and mayhem and death. Hardly what you’d call friendly! And definitely not like Tinkerbell!
In the episode Small Worlds Estelle had met the fairies and produced a slide show of her photographs. To start her talk, the first slide featured Frances Griffiths, a nine year old girl in 1917, who was pictured behind 4 dancing fairies.
Frances Griffiths moved with her mother from South Africa to the UK during World War 1, while her father fought in the war. She stayed in the small village of Cottingley, in West Yorkshire with her cousin Elsie and her aunt and uncle. Being from South Africa, life in England was very different and she found it hard to adjust.
In the summer of 1917, Elsie took her young cousin down to the beck at the bottom of the garden, where they played alongside it for hours until returning with wet feet and clothes. When they were scolded for the state they would return in, Frances told her mother and aunt that it was because of the fairies they had gone to see.
Of course, her aunt and mother disbelieved her which was a little hurtful to the young girl, until Elsie used her father’s camera and snapped Frances in that now famous Cottingley photo, with four dancing fairies in the forefront.
Frances Griffiths age 9
Her Uncle Arthur who had his own dark room processed the photo but dismissed it as paper cut outs and not a real photograph. In September, two months after the first photograph was taken, Elsie took the camera again, this time Frances photographed her cousin holding her hand out to a 1ft tall gnome on the lawn. Again Arthur disbelieved it and called it a prank, and forbade the use of his camera.
Elsie Wright 16 September 1917
These photographs were taken using a Midg Quarter camera.
However, despite Arthur’s lack of belief in his daughter and niece, Elsie’s mother, believed the stories and the photographs to be true and used them at her next meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford. The lecture was on ‘Fairy Life’ and Polly Wright, showed the photographs to the guest speaker. A few months later the photographs were displayed at the annual conference in Harrogate and came to the attention of Edward Gardner, the leading member of the Society.
The photographs came under a lot of scrutiny. They were studied minutely under various photographic procedures, and although many stated that the photographs were straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera, the object to which was being photographed could not be true.
Fairies did not exist!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in the Cottingley fairies, so much so that he illustrated them in an article he wrote for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Conan Doyle had always held a fascination for fairies and the fantastical creatures that lived at the bottom of the garden. His Uncle Richard was a notable illustrator who designed the cover of Punch Magazine, and in 1846 produced a series of illustrations for a new translation of the Brothers Grimm tales, the Fairy Ring, causing the novelist William Thackeray to declare that Dick Doyle was the new master of fairyland. It could possibly explain why in later years that Conan Doyle became a Spiritualist, he was interested in the paranormal and the photographs to him were clear evidence of psychic phenomena. His friend Harry Houdini was also interested but was at that time exposing fraudsters such as mediums in a bid to find a genuine one in which he could communicate with his dead mother.
Before he left for Australia, Conan Doyle despatched a letter to the girls explaining that he would really like to meet them but for his journey he was unable to. He did however send Edward Gardner with two cameras for the girls in order to take more shots of these fairies. Although Gardner went down to the beck to view these fairies for himself he came back empty handed. The girls went to the beck and returned with three more photos.
The Cameo Quarter camera could perform far clearer close ups depending on how far you moved the ‘bellows’, such as a photograph from 3 ft away could be brought closer by moving the bellows out, in much the same way as modern cameras using zoom!
In this photograph with Elsie and the fairy offering her a posy, Elsie doesn’t appear to look at the fairy. Elsie’s response was merely that fairies are timid creatures and often shy away from people looking at them, and as they’d seen so many fairies down at the beck, they often didn’t look at them.
In 1983 the cousins admitted in an article published in The Unexplained magazine that the photographs were faked but maintained that they’d still seen fairies. They admitted that the fairies were drawings that Elsie had copied from illustrations of Claude Arthur Shepperson’s dancing ladies in Princess Mary’s Gift Book, published in 1914. They had cut out the cardboard figures and supported those using hatpins, and strings disposing of the props in the beck once the photographs had been taken.
Although Elsie admitted that all 5 photographs were fake, Frances Griffiths was adamant throughout that this last photograph was real. “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.”
This photograph again was reviewed as fake, but unlike the other photographs this one showed the lead fairy with long flowing dark hair at the forefront of the photo with another contemplating getting up to the left, along with a further two in the corner of the right appearing also to wake up. The sun bath appears like a flimsy cloth but again looks different to the previous cardboard fairies, so what is the truth, is it real, are there really fairies?
What do you think?