One of the most infamous hoaxes ever perpetrated in England occurred during the early years of the 20th century. Two children aged 9 and 16 managed to fool everybody with their ‘joke’ so much so that their prank made headlines around the world.
First of all it is important to remember that in 1917 very few people in England had cameras and interest in the so-called supernatural was widespread.Frances Griffiths (9) and Elsie Wright (16) lived in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley and had access to one of the first mass- produced box cameras. The girls started off by making cardboard cut-outs of fairies held in place by string and hair clips. Then they arranged the ‘fairies’ around Frances and took a photograph that, when developed, fooled the world!
Such was the furore that, in order to protect the girls identity and privacy, the photograph was titled ‘Alice and the Fairies’. They took another photograph of Elsie with a ‘gnome’ but it was the fairies photograph that grabbed the public’s imagination.
The Reverend George Vale Owen, one of the best-known spiritualists of the early-20th Century, was taken in and so was his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator and author of the Sherlock Holmes books.
The controversy hit the headlines again in 1983 when Frances, then aged 75, admitted that the photographs were a hoax. But she caused further controversy by claiming that there was an extra fairy in the photograph that they had not put there. Cripes!
The reason I was reminded of the story was because, a couple of weeks ago, a 100-year-old print of ‘Alice and the Fairies’ sold at auction for £1050