THE 100th anniversary of the Cottingley Fairies - one of the most famous hoaxes of the 20th century - is being marked by a new exhibition.

Dr Merrick Burrow, University of Huddersfield's Head of English and Creative Writing, is guest curator of the forthcoming exhibition on the Cottingley Fairies at the Treasures of the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds.

It is the first time that many of the artefacts from the hoax, which fooled many including Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have been put on public display.

The hoax began in 1917 when Elsie Wright took a photograph of her cousin Frances Griffiths with some dancing fairies she had drawn and attached to hat pins near their home in Cottingley. This and subsequent photos found their way to Conan Doyle, who staked his reputation on their authenticity in The Strand magazine in 1920.

Debate raged over the photos for decades, with Elsie and Frances only revealing how they faked the photographs in 1983. The story even inspired the 1997 film ‘FairyTale - A True Story’.

Such was the furore over the photographs at the time, that Dr Burrow sees parallels between the entrenched views about the hoax and the more recent phenomena of fake news.

“Conan Doyle had converted to spiritualism in 1917 – around the time the photos were taken,” said Dr Burrow. "Spiritualism was on the rise at the time.

“But Conan Doyle also encountered many who thought spiritualism was a fraud, that it was exploiting the grief of people who lost loved ones in the Great Bar. There was a lot of animosity towards him and he had many heated debates about it, so by the time the photos appeared he was primed to prove his beliefs.

“He deliberately created a controversy, what he called in a letter a ‘time-delay mine’ - he published the photos, then went on a lecture tour of Australia. He amplified the whole thing.

“There are similar elements to what we see in fake news and social media bubbles today. There was Conan Doyle and those who believed without question in spiritualism in one corner, and his opponents in the other. Neither would give ground to the other, which is what we see now.”

“My take on it is that it was an accidental conspiracy,” Dr Burrow adds. “There were a series of minor deceptions that in themselves would not really have amounted to anything. But these were blown up into a global cause.

"Social media is like that today. People have views that can be quite extreme."

Dr Burrows is hoping the exhibition will open in January.