An ordinary and matter-of-fact letter from a schoolgirl to her friend,
one might say, apart from the rather startling reference
to fairies. But, as both Frances and her cousin Elsie Wright have
since pointed out (they are now grandmothers), they were not
particularly surprised by seeing fairies; they seemed a natural part
of the rural countryside around the `beck' (stream) at the bottom
of the long garden in Cottingley, near Bradford, in West Yorkshire
Elsie had borrowed her father's cameraľa Midg quarter-plateľone
Saturday afternoon in July 1917 in order to take Frances's photo
and cheer her up (for her cousin had fallen in the beck and been
scolded for wetting her clothes). They were away for about half
an hour and Mr Wright developed the plate later in the afternoon.
He was surprised to see strange white shapes coming up,
imagining them to be first birds and then sandwich papers left lying around;
in vain Elsie behind him in the dark-room said they were fairies.
In August it was Frances who had the camera, when she and Elsie
scaled the sides of the beck and went up to the old oaks. There she took
a photograph of Elsie with a gnome. The print was under-exposed
and unclear, as might be expected when taken by a young lady rising 10 years old.
The plate was again developed by Elsie's father, Arthur, who suspected that the
girls had been playing tricks and refused to lend his camera to them any more.
Stunned at how such a brilliant mind like Doyle's could be fooled by
"by our Elsie, and her at the bottom of the class!"
He always believed that the photos were fake and asked
the girls why there was paper in the first photo.
After the appearance of fairies on the second photo he
stopped the girls from using the camera again, especially
when they refused to admit they were playing a joke.
Till his passing in 1926, he was fearful that the whole family were
to be exposed as frauds. He prevented Elsie from taking money
for the photos but a war bond of ú100 was given to her by Doyle.
Had spiritual beliefs and followed Theosophy after
experiencing astral projection and past life recollection.
However, she refused to believe the girls were telling the truth until
one evening at the Bradford Theosophical Society
the topic of fairies brought about her disclosure of the pictures
Elsie Wright, 16 years old
A keen artist who had been attending Bradford Art College
since she was 13 also found work in a photographic lab
and a greeting card factory during the war. In the darkroom
her job was to create composite photos of fallen soldiers with
pictures of loved ones and during this time she
had the opportunity to work with plate cameras. Later
emigrated to America to escape the media attention but was
dismayed to find that even in Maine, the tales of the
Cottingley fairies were well known.
After marrying an engineer, Elsie emigrated again, this time
to India where she was an army driver during the war.
She returned to England after the 1947 declaration of independence
and soon the media tracked her down and her privacy was lost again.
The Griffiths Family
Sergeant Major Edwin Griffiths
Stationed in South Africa during the war, he remained at
his post after his wife and daughter temporarily
moved to Cottingley. In 1918 he arrived back in England
and the reunited family moved from
Cottingley to Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
Annie Griffiths (nee Wright)
Enjoyed a high life in South Africa with servants and lavish trips.
Frances Griffiths, 10 years old
Arrived from South Africa with her mother to live with her
cousin in Cottingley. Her photograph with the dancing
fairies has been described as the most reproduced photo
in history and is instantly recognised by people across the world.
Throughout her life she toyed with the media, not
letting out the truth until she was an elderly lady.
However, although she admitted to have faked
the pictures, she adamantly declared that she did see
fairies and she did play with them at the Beck.