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Photographic expert uncovered hoax after testing cameras used by Cottingley cousins
The journalist who exposed the Cottingley Fairies as a hoax – after carrying out scientific studies of the famous photographs taken by two Edwardian girls – has died.
The images of cut-out fairies stuck on to trees with hatpins, taken by cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright at Cottingley Beck in 1917 and 1920, fooled many people, including scientists and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Sherlock Holmes creator, who brought the photographs to public attention, was so convinced they were genuine that he gave the girls an expensive camera to capture more fairies and gnomes on film. The hoax was kept secret for more than 60 years until Geoffrey Crawley, photographic expert and editor of the British Journal of Photography, tried to establish how the images were created.
He tested original cameras used by the girls and concluded that they would have been unable to capture such sharp images.
In 1983, Mr Crawley published a series of articles outlining why the photographs were fakes, leading Frances and Elsie, then elderly women, to confess that they copied images of fairies from a book onto paper cut-outs.
Elsie claimed all the photos were fakes, but Frances insisted that one image, of transparent fairies surrounded by tiny faces peering out from an eerie mist, was genuine.
Conan Doyle called it ‘The Fairy Bower’, while scientists called it ‘utterly unfakeable’.
The girls developed their pictures in a makeshift darkroom at Elsie’s home. They came to Conan Doyle’s attention after Elsie’s mother took them to Bradford Theosophical Society.
Frances died in 1986 and is buried in Scholemoor Cemetery. Last year her memoirs, Reflections On The Cottingley Fairies, were published.
She writes of her misery at being hounded by the Press, and vowed never to talk about the photographs again after being mobbed at a public lecture.
“I couldn’t go out without men with notebooks crowding me. I couldn’t tell the truth but was horribly uncomfortable about the cut-outs. It wasn’t a joke anymore,” she wrote. A sculpture celebrating the Cottingley Fairies will form the centrepiece of a new £73,000 community garden. Cottingley Community Association, with the support of Bradford Council, secured £72,995 to build the sculpture and transform Cottingley Oval into a village green. The camera belonging to Elsie’s father, which took the 1917 photographs, and the camera given to her by Conan Doyle, are in the National Media Museum’s collection in Bradford.