Blog Sitting Special at Midnight – Writer in Residence Paul Andruss – Cottingley Fairies

Welcome to the midnight feast that is the posts by Paul Andruss.. I write fairy stories and I am sure that I have seen one or two in my gardens over the years.. perhaps a flash of light on a butterfly’s wing… or not!  Paul looks at one of the hottest sightings of fairies in 1917 that was to divide the nation between believers and non-believers.. I know where I stand!

Paul presents both sides of the story… and it is up to you to decide which side you believe!

Cottingley Fairies by Paul Adruss

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In 1917 Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins from the village of Cottingley near Bradford in West Yorkshire, England, took photos of fairies. At the time Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 10. The girls often played together beside the stream at the bottom of the garden. When Elsie’s mother complained about their wet feet and clothes, Frances and Elsie said they only went to see the fairies. To prove it, Elsie borrowed her father’s camera and returned 30 minutes later.

Elsie’s father, Arthur, was a keen amateur photographer, and had his own darkroom. The picture he developed showed Frances behind a bush on which four fairies appeared to be dancing. The girls borrowed his camera again and this time returned with a photograph of Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall gnome.

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The photographs became public in mid-1919, after Elsie’s mother attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford. The lecture was on “Fairy Life” and at the end of the meeting she showed the fairy photographs to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the Society’s annual conference in Harrogate, where they came to the attention of Edward Gardner, a leading member of the society.

Gardner sent the prints and the original glass-plate negatives to a photography expert, who said they were genuine. Gardner used the prints in the illustrated lectures he gave around the UK.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a keen spiritualist. He used the photographs to illustrate an article on fairies in the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Conan Doyle interpreted the photographs as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena.

Gardner and Conan Doyle sought a second expert opinion from the photographic company Kodak. Several of the company’s technicians examined the prints and agreed the pictures showed no signs of being faked.

In July 1920 Conan Doyle sent Gardner to meet the Wright family with two Cameo cameras and 24 secretly marked photographic plates. Frances was invited to stay with the Wright family during the school summer holiday so she and Elsie could take more pictures of the fairies. The girls took several photographs, two of which appeared to show fairies.

The first shows Frances in profile and with a leaping winged fairy close by her nose.

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The second shows a fairy hovering or tiptoeing on a branch offering Elsie a posie of harebells.

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Two days later the girls took the last picture, showing fairies waking in the sun.

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COTTINGLEY FAIRIES EXPOSED

Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths’ two photographs of fairies became public after Elsie’s mother took them to a Theosophical Society meeting. They soon came to attention of Edward Gardner, a leading member of the society. Seeking to verify them, Gardner sent the original glass-plate negatives and contact prints to a photography expert.

The expert replied they were genuine – ‘with no trace of studio fakery involving cardboard cut-outs or models’. But Gardner’s expert also enhanced the prints to make them more ‘conducive to printing’. He also provided copies of the enhanced prints for Gardner to sell in his lectures.

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Original Photograph – Original un-enhanced Contact print

It is not easy to find originals. But some show the fairies as over-exposed outlines rather than the pretty detailed figures on the enhanced versions.

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Pre-enhanced – fairy offering harebell posie

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Enhanced -fairy offering harebell posie

When Arthur Conan Doyle saw the enhanced prints, he believed they were ‘clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena’. Having lost a son in the First World War a few years earlier, Doyle and his wife were enthusiastic spiritualists. Lady Doyle was a much lauded amateur spiritualist medium.

Doyle and Gardner took the enhanced prints to two photographic firms, Kodak and Ilford, to confirm they were genuine. While Kodak agreed there was no obvious signs of fakery they declined to issue a certificate of authenticity. Ilford unequivocally thought there was evidence of fakery.

The historical novelist Maurice Hewlett had the last word when he pronounced – knowing children, and knowing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide the young ladies have pulled one of them.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually ebbed after 1921. Elsie and Frances married and lived abroad. In 1966, a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie. She admitted the fairies may have been ‘figments of her imagination’, somehow transferred onto the photographs. Psychic photography was a new and exciting phenomenon around this time.

In 1983, the cousins admitted the photographs were faked, although they maintained they really saw fairies. The 16 year-old Elsie had copied illustrations from a children’s book and added wings. They supported the cardboard cut-outs with hatpins.

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Comparison of figures from Princess Mary Gift Book

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Dancing Figures illustration in Princess Mary Gift Book

Elsie said they were too embarrassed to admit the truth after fooling Arthur Conan Doyle – ‘Two village kids and a brilliant man – well, we could only keep quiet.’

Frances added- ‘I never thought of it as fraud – we were having a bit of fun. I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in. They wanted to be taken in.’

Frances’s memoirs ‘Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies’ record often bitter exchanges between Elsie and Frances. In one letter from 1983, Frances wrote – ‘I hated those photographs from the age of 16. When Mr Gardner presented me with a bunch of flowers and wanted me to sit with him at a Theosophical Society meeting, I realised what I was in for if I did not keep myself hidden.’

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Fairy Sunbath

The cousins disagreed about the final photograph of a fairy sunbath. Elsie maintained it was faked. Frances insisted it was genuine. This made some wonder if the print is a double exposure; both girls taking the same photograph without the other’s knowledge. But who knows… Perhaps, just perhaps…

©Paul Andruss 2017

You can find more about Paul Andruss via his about page on his blog: http://www.paul-andruss.com/about/

Finn Mac CoolThomas the Rhymer

Buy Paul’s books: https://www.amazon.com/Finn-Mac-Cool-Paul-Andruss-ebook/dp/B018OJZ9KY

and https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

My thanks to Paul and to you for dropping in to read this post.. please send it flying around the world on its gossamer wings… thanks Sally

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24 thoughts on “Blog Sitting Special at Midnight – Writer in Residence Paul Andruss – Cottingley Fairies

  1. Fairies are as real as we are; but unlike most humans, they’re capable of moving between dimensions. That’s why they can seem to be here one second and gone the next. I love this article, Paul. It’s a treat to see actual photographs of fairies. I’m also a big fan of Conan Doyle; and if I hadn’t believed in the existence of fairies before I read this, I certainly would now. I mean, if the creator of the grand sleuth Sherlock Holmes says they’re real, who am I to argue? 🙂 ♥

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lyn, with typical Hollywood good timing there was also another film about the Cottingley Fairies out around the same time. It is called Photographing Fairies and both Films are very good. Look out for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My grandad had a book with big plates of the Cottingley fairies…and took me to the woods there, which are full of ancient magic, as we lived not far away. I spent much of my childhood looking for fairies in the woods, tracking the barghest through its muddy pawprints and looking for trolls under every bridge. But I never believed these photographed fairies were real…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Blog Sitting Special at Midnight – Writer in Residence Paul Andruss – Cottingley Fairies | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  4. Dear all, thank you for the comments. It is great that I have caught people’s interest and everyone has voiced their opinions. But I am about to stick my head above the parapet… hence the general comment… gutless creature that I am. I don’t believe the photographs are real.

    That is not to say I do not believe in other beings.. fairies exist across every culture in the world. There is more to this world that I know or am capable of even hazarding a guess at. I have certainly had experiences I cannot explain scientifically and I know I’m not alone. But when one investigates popular reported phenomena there is a large amount of vested interest in the reports and one must sift the evidence to one’s own satisfaction.

    As I said I do believe inexplicable things happen… they have happened to me…. things that are simply beyond coincidence. And I believe that the universe if greater than I know. But in this case I doubt.

    Now back to safer ground. I would hazard there are two type of beings lumped together as fairies.

    Sometimes they are very like us – such as Celtic fairies – but with extraordinary abilities. (There a number of essays giving a hidden history of the Celtic type fairy races here… http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/history-of-the-fairy.php).

    The fairies the girls claimed to see would appear to be different. I would suggest that they are extra-dimensional beings (as Tina says)… probably more like elementals – a natural intelligence more akin to what the Greeks and Romans described a s Genius Locii – or spirits of the place. These are supernatural beings.

    Unfortunately I think the reason the photographs were not tampered with is because they were actual over exposed photos of cardboard cutouts. Conan Doyle is interesting. Often we confuse the creator with the creation. Doyle was not Holmes. Doyle and his wife had gone through a traumatic experience with the loss of his son in WWI – a senseless war of empires. I am working on a post about Doyle’s friendship with Houdini for Sally’s blog which is an absolutely fascinating relationship and full of surprises.

    And that’s my 2 cents worth! Feel free to fire away!
    Best Paul

    Liked by 1 person

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