The Cottingley Fairies. An Amazing Tale, But Was It A Hoax?

Are faeries real?

Tony Walker


Faerie photograph
Historic UK

This is the true story of the Cottingley fairies. That is to say, the events described below are true. Whether the Cottingley Fairies are real is something for you to decide after reading all the evidence.

The story dates from the early 20th Century, but the Cottingley Fairies became even more well-known after the story tale was turned into a successful movie in 1997, starring Harvey Keitel. The film was later released on Netflix in 2016. It’s called Fairy Tale.

There have been debates about whether the Cottingley story was true or a hoax from when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his article on the Cottingley Fairies in The Strand Magazine in December 1920, right up to modern Reddit groups.

It is fair to say that the balance of belief is that the fairy photos are hoaxes, but not everyone believes that means there are no such things as fairies. Some people are adamant they exist, and there is even a scientific study into fairy sightings, which continues today. I will link this at the end.

The Origin of The Cottingley Fairies

The story begins on a Saturday afternoon in July 1917, when an engineer named Arthur Wright went into the darkroom to develop a photograph taken earlier in the day by his 16-year-old daughter Elsie.

Elsie had been playing with her 11-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths. Elsie’s mother and Frances’s mother were sisters, and Elsie and her mother had just come to England from South Africa.

The two girls would often play at the beck and come back with wet clothes and shoes. Their mothers told them off for getting wet and asked why they always went to the beck. The girls replied that they went to see the fairies' larking.

Their mothers didn't believe them and thought they were being naughty, so Elsie took her dad's camera and came back 30 minutes later with "proof" that fairies existed.

As the plate developed, Arthur Wright saw vague white shapes. At first, he took them for birds. But when the picture became clear, he was startled to see that they were indeed fairies. Or they were apparently fairies.