Newly-published memoirs of one of the girls behind the Cottingley Fairies story reveal how she turned her back on the fame the photographs brought.

The book contains letters between cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright revealing their bitter dispute over the five photographs they took at Cottingley Beck between 1917 and 1920 which fooled scientists and intellectuals, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In 1981 as elderly women, Frances and Elsie admitted faking the photographs after a magazine article exposed them as hoaxes.

But Frances insisted up to her death in 1986 that one of the photographs, which Conan Doyle called ‘The Fairy Bower’, was real. She claimed to have taken it, aged 12, after spotting a cocoon in a nest at the beck.

For the first time, Frances’s recollections are published, with additional material by her daughter, Christine Lynch. Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies reveals how Frances hated the fame once the girls’ photographs came to public attention when Elsie’s mother took them to Bradford Theosophical Society in 1919.

Many years later Frances told her daughter she genuinely saw fairies there.

“As far as she was concerned, fairies were part of nature,” said Mrs Lynch, who lives in Northern Ireland. “They lived in the woods around the beck, as did other wildlife she found there.”

Frances said in 1920s she felt “hunted and miserable” when a magazine article by Conan Doyle featured the photograph of the paper cut-out fairies.

The photographs haunted her again when she moved to Shrewsbury and was persuaded to attend a lecture by theosophist Edward Gardner. Frances was “surrounded by people wanting to speak to her, touch her; she was treated like a spectacle”.

Mrs Lynch said: “She told me years later, ‘I determined I was never going to be talked into having anything to do with it again!’ And she didn’t, for 55 years.”

The cousins fell out when Elsie claimed to have faked the Fairy Bower photograph. In a letter of 1983 Frances writes: “I hated those photographs from the age of 16 when Mr Gardner presented me with a bunch of flowers and wanted me to sit on the platform with him. I realised what I was in for if I did not keep myself hidden.”

The Midge camera on which the 1917 photographs were taken and the Cameo camera given to Frances by Conan Doyle in 1920 are in the National Media Museum along with a signed copy of Conan Doyle’s The Coming of Fairies.

  • Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies, published by Haslam Printers Ltd at £8.99, is on sale at the Museum.