Cottingley Fairies
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Trips to Cottingley

In the summer of 1920, Gardner went to Cottingley to interview the girls and speak to their families. He returned to London, content that they were all honest and respectable people and recommended to Doyle that more photos were required if the truth was to be confirmed.

Edward Gardner went back to Cottingley with 2 Cameo quarter plate folding cameras, a tripod and 24 secretly marked plates and asked the girls to photograph the fairies again.


Butchers Cameo Quarter Plate Camera


The Cameo Quarter Plate was made by W Butcher & Sons, London 1915 - 1920. It had a rising front and pneumatic shutter release cylinder but was prone to distorted and out of focus images due to the unbraced lens board. As the name suggests, the lens assembly could be folded back into the main structure via collapsing leather bellows thus providing a neat and compact unit.

Like the Arthur Wright's Midg Quarter Plate camera which was used for the first 2 photographs, the Cameo captured images on glass plates. Two dozen plates were secretly marked and carefully boxed by Gardner and his team before travelling to Cottingley.



Polly Wright wrote to Frances, who was now 13, describing how Gardner wanted to invite her to take more pictures of the fairies during the school holidays. In the reply, she accepted and travelled from Scarborough by train for a two week stay.

At the same time, Gardner caught the train from London to Bradford and arrived at Cottingley Bar by tram.


"I went off, too, to Cottingley again, taking the two cameras and plates from London, and met the family and explained to the two girls the simple working of the cameras, giving one each to keep. The cameras were loaded, and my final advice was that they need go up to the glen only on fine days as they had been accustomed to do before and 'tice the fairies, as they called their way of attracting them, and see what they could get. I suggested only the most obvious and easy precautions about lighting and distance, for I knew it was essential they should feel free and unhampered and have no burden of responsibility. If nothing came of it all, I told them, they were not to mind a bit."

Fairies: A Book Of Real Fairies by Edward L. Gardner


Gardner left the photographic equipment with the girls and returned to London praying for sunshine so the fairies would come out. Rain fell for a fornight.


Then on 19 August 1920, Polly Wright wrote a letter to Gardner saying modestly:

"The morning was dull and misty so they did not take any photos until after dinner when the mist had cleared away and it was sunny. I went to my sister's for tea and left them to it. When I got back they had only managed two with fairies, I was disappointed."

"P.S. She did not take one flying after all"


Arthur Wright packed the plates in cotton wool and returned them to Edward Gardner in London still confused as to the fuss of the whole matter. They were fakes after all right? Although Frances won a scholarship to go to grammar school, Elsie left school at the age of 13. How could such an intelligent man be fooled `by our Elsie, and her at the bottom of the class!'

At the same time, Gardner sent an urgent telegram to Doyle with the news that the girls had managed to take another 3 photographs. They were later posted to him in Melbourne, Australia where he was holding lectures on spiritualism but such was his excitment that he even excused the apparent tip of a hatpin in the mid section of one the fairies as being its navel. His reply included:


"My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance... we have had continued messages at seances for some time that a visible sign was coming through..."

"breaking down materialism and leading human thought to a broader and more spiritual level."

"matter as we have known it is not really the limit of our universe."

It must be noted that Doyle himself was a strong believer in the spiritual and the afterlife and had been a keen speaker on the subject for many years. As mentioned earlier, Theosophy gained support during the War and Doyle's own son, Kingsley was killed in 1916 shortly before the Armistice in the Battle of the Somme.


Frances and the Leaping Fairy


Photograph 3: Frances and the Leaping Fairy


A slightly out of focus Frances is pictured with a fairy in flight. This image was particularly criticised for the contemporary hairstyle of the mystical creature which was in fact a cutout drawing fixed to a branch by a hatpin.

It was this picture that prompted Doyle to comment on the apparent top of a hatpin in the mid section of the fairy as being its naval.



Fairy Offering A Posy To Elsie


Photograph 4: Fairy Offering A Posy To Elsie


A 19 year old Elsie gazes at a fairy who is offering a bunch of flowers.

Critics pointed out that the fairy looked remarkably fashionable with its bobbed hairstyle and sheer dress.



The Fairy Sunbath


Photograph 5: The Fairy Sunbath


The fifth picture in the series, the Fairy Sunbath, was created with a simple frame and knicker elastic construction pushed into the long grass. With a pull of the elastic, the fairies would fall backwards from their slots in the frame, thus providing a sense of "fading" when the camera caught the motion. The picture was successful albeit for a double exposure showing one of the fairies twice! However, Conan still wrote:


"Seated on the upper left hand edge with wing well displayed is an undraped fairy apparently considering whether it is time to get up. An earlier riser of more mature age is seen on the right possessing abundant hair and wonderful wings. Her slightly denser body can be glimpsed within her fairy dress."



Interest Gathers Pace

What Will The Public Say?