Saturday afternoon in 1917 two Bradford cousins, 10-year old Frances
Griffiths and 17-year old Elsie Wright, went out into the garden
with Elsie's father's camera. On their return they claimed they
had seen fairies at the bottom of the garden next to Cottingley
Beck and they had even photographed them!
was in the garden of this house that the "fairies"
images captured on camera by the girls showed images of fairies
dancing. Could it be that now there was real evidence that fairies
existed, captured right here in Bradford?
the world would never have known about the Cottingley fairies but
in 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of detective Sherlock Holmes,
not only wrote about the existence of the photos in Strand Magazine
but declared them to be authentic. Would Holmes and Watson have
been so convinced?
Arthur Conan Doyle
her life Frances always maintained the fairies were real but five
years before her death Elsie Wright decided to come clean. Speaking
on the BBC programme Nationwide in 1983 Elsie explained: "At
that time women wore great big pinwheel hats, you know, with great
big crowns and they have to take their hat pins about this long."
If fashions had been different then there may well have been no
father's camera has found a home in Bradford's National Museum of
Photography, Film and Television. Colin Harding, the museum's Curator
of Photographic Technology, says: "Elsie wrote letters to the
Yorkshire Post, where she finally admitted these were fake, that
they were paper cut-outs mounted on to twigs using hat pins and
then rephotographed but Frances all along maintained while some
of the photos were fakes some of them were indeed real photographs."
Atack's mother went to school with Elsie Wright in Cottingley but
he thinks the whole thing was a fake although he does think the
girls helped put Cottingley on the map: "My mother came to
school with her and she used to draw fairies all over her exercise
book so she was very artistic accept what Elsie Wright said in later
life. They were cut out of paper and stuck on hat pins and out into
the trees and no-one could see just how they were done.
Wright speaking on the BBC programme Nationwide in 1983
older people used to call the village Fairyland. Even the bus conductors
used to say, when they got to Cottingley Bar, 'Fairyland' for people
getting off the bus
Krupa, who is also from Cottingley, thinks the fairies may have
existed: "I would like to think there are fairies. We've all
got the child in us, haven't we? At heart we're still children even
though I am over 60. I would hope that the fairies were there at
some stage. My mother knew Elsie Wright. Elsie was older than my
mother and she always thought she was a bit strange, perhaps a bit
yonderly. I think (she was on) on another plane to everybody else
so she may have had some sort of psychic powers that other people
Griffiths always said the fairies were real...
does not accept Elsie's explanation: "I think it would be very,
very difficult to photo fairies on hat pins without something showing."
Harding adds: " I think the thing to bear in mind, of course,
was that whether or not the photos are fake it doesn't affect the
notion of whether fairies may, or may not be, real."
despite Elsie's confession, people still seem fascinated by the
story of the Cottingley fairies. Just a few years ago movie stars,
including Harvey Keitel and Peter O'Toole, and film crews descended
on West Yorkshire to film Fairy Tale: A True Story.
perhaps, we should listen to Conan Doyle's contemporary J.M Barrie
who wrote in his famous novel Peter Pan: "Every time you say
you don't believe in fairies, a fairy dies."
Stokes interviewed Maurice Attack, Margaret Crouper and Colin Harding
for BBC Radio
Leeds' Weird West Yorkshire Week.