Fairies: Fabulous...but fake?
Cottingley's famous fairies!
Once upon a time it was thought fairies could be found in Bradford! They were even caught on camera in Cottingley in 1917 thanks to two girls being in the right place at the right time...or so it seemed for nearly 70 years!
One 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!
Surprise at the bottom of the garden!
The soon-to-be-famous images captured on camera by the girls showed pictures of fairies dancing. Could it be that this was real evidence that fairies existed, captured right here in Bradford?
Perhaps the world would never have known about the Cottingley Fairies but in 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, not only wrote about the existence of the photos in Strand Magazine but he also declared them to be authentic. Would Holmes and Watson have been so convinced?
Throughout 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 that the 'fairies' were actually paper cutouts held up by hat pins: "At that time women wore great big pinwheel hats, you know, with great big crowns and they had to take hat pins about this long." If fashions had been different then there may well have been no Cottingley Fairies!
Caught on camera
Elsie father's camera eventually found a home in the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford. The NMM's Colin Harding said despite Elsie's admission, some mystery still remained: "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 re-photographed but Frances all along maintained while SOME of the photos were fakes some of them were indeed real photographs."
Interviewed in 2004, Maurice Atack - whose mother went to school with Elsie Wright in Cottingley - said he thought the whole thing was a fake but he also believed the girls helped put the village 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...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.
"The 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..."
But, also speaking in 2004, Cottingley's Margaret Krupa said she thought the fairies might well 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 another plane to everybody else so she may have had some sort of psychic powers that other people didn't have."
Margaret did not accept Elsie's explanation: "I think it would be very, very difficult to photo fairies on hat pins without something showing."
Colin Harding from the NMM added: "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."
Coming clean: Elsie on the BBC in 1983
But, despite Elsie's confession, people still seem fascinated by the story of the Cottingley Fairies - even making their mark on Hollywood! It was just a few years ago that film stars including Harvey Keitel and Peter O'Toole descended on West Yorkshire to film Fairy Tale: A True Story.
In the end, though, 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..."
last updated: 28/04/2008 at 12:11