Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the occult


The world in the summer of 1917 was upturned by World War. The little silent

village of Cottingley was just an area on the edge of the city Bradford, in the county of Yorkshire. Yet it was to be famed all over the world through the action of two young girls.
Come with me now to the garden were young Frances Griffiths aged 9 from South Africa and her cousin Elsie Wright aged 16 are taking photographs of fairies at the bottom of Elsie familys long garden. She had taken her fathers new camera out of his hobby darkroom and suddenly the lie broke loose on an unsuspecting world.

Elsies father did not believe but his wife Polly did. The five photographs taken can be seen above .They have been cleaned up with modern technology and we may see what we see more clearly than from the originals.

A mystery it was and perhaps still may be but not in the way of judgement. a child trick that took the world by storm. You see how it worked in the sadness of war the hope these photos brought to millions of a better world than ours hidden in the banks of a gentle stream and woodland setting. Perhaps they wanted it all to be true and so we now tell the story as we progress into the past.

Elsies mother took a long look at her daughters work and decided it was really magic. So much so she took the photos with her to a meeting of the Theosophical  Society. A group of dedicated explorers into the unexplained. Not a load of silly old folk but what became the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity . Run by a writer named Edward Gardner who accepted the photos at first glance as real. He then borrowed the work to display with his lectures on the occult. His way with  words sold the people the right to believe in another more peaceful world than ever mankind could live in. A curtain over the horror of war.

Enter our stage Sherlock Holmes creator Doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Gardner had shown photographs taken of Fairies playing with two girls in a woodland setting. Doyle, an occultist spiritualist believed the photos stood as real proof at last, that another world ran parallel with ours. That was enough to start the ball rolling.

Doyle was on tour so he sent Gardner a message to bring in expert help. Gardner found photo expert Harold Snelling who was famous for spotting false and trick photography. This expert then pronounced to the world that the said photographs had not been faked and stood up as real.  Here we can stop as years roll by. 1921 Doyle is planning a book on the occult and recalls the fairy photos. He sends in Clairvoyant renown  Geoffrey Hodson. A man that Doyle had dealings with and seemed to trust.

What happened then was shocking as after he spent time with the girls in Cottingley Leeds he returned to Undershaw House in Hindshead Surrey  and the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Hodson declared that like these girls ,he himself saw the garden full of fairy life. Doyle was delighted and planned a series of talks on the occult using proof from the photos.He was entirely taken in hook line and sinker as a believer in fairies, elf, goblin and Gnomes.

Doyle made a good income from his lectures including the passage of proof that fairies existed as his big finish.He even had a book published on the subject.

Leaving that period of time behind we now roll fast forward to the year 1982 and we are able to witness a BBC interview presented by Joe Cooper with both Elsie and Frances as two old ladies on the subject of fairy photographs. It related to an article in The Unexplained Magazine as Elsie had admitted she had falsified all five fairy photographs from artwork painted by Frances cut out from stiff cardboard and pined into the ground for photoing. It caused a sensation I recall.

Frances had a book by Arthur Shepperson who wrote in  Princess Marys Gift book which bore many fairy drawings within its pages. From this Frances, a talented artist had painted just what would look life like. The girls then cut them all out, pasted onto board and there we have it, photos via a camera in the hands of two young forgers.

A lie that would have ruined Doyle reputation .Have brought down Gardner and that dishonest clairvoyant in seconds. But then in 1983 not one of them mentioned were around to be laughed at.

What a lie can do is beyond belief but is never the less true.Some Six people affected and for nearly 70 years two world wars and up to the 1980s five black and white photographs taken by children who with guile and devilment brought us a world beyond our own. Only to admit their guilt on air 67 year later.

We look at the photos today and cannot see how so many millions of people could have been fooled. Was it a generation that needed hope, wanted magic and prepared to accept as fact utter nonsense? Or is that our clean up of those photographs show us far more than the soft, slightly out of focus, tinted originals.Photographs that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle held close to his eyes and unlike his Sherlock Homes character was totally taken in by the case of fantasy.

Perhaps we all hope for better worlds even now. I would be sorry for fairies in a world of today myself. I cannot say we are alone on earth but for most of us fairy tales really are just that.

A mystery cleared by the dismissal of a lie from the mouths of the guilty.

Thank you for your support in reading a tale that made the world sit up and listen to. Over a vast period of time 101 years, for many more than will admit all was truth and fairies did exist.  For three generations it was fact for some 45% of the population.The proof lay in those photographs.

The work by Conan Doyle was first publish in 1922 by Hodder and Stoughton London England. Entitled The Coming of the Fairies. It remains in circulation even today. In the pages of this book all five faked photos appear as Doyle used them as his big fact that fairies are at the bottom of your garden. He believed right up to his death. What power that lie did have to travel through from Leeds across the globe and exits for 101 years. Now that is the only mystery . As for Sherlock Holmes he would have spotted the fake and marked it as a case for Watson to write up. Not so his able creator. The first mentioned detective was penned far earlier by Edgar A Poe with inspector Dupin stories. The first real detective came after Doyle Sherlock Holmes first appearance in the London Strand Newspapers with Jack Whicher OF Scotland Yard 1880s who was a real human being not an invented character.

Copyright Kevin Parr Bt 2018


Jack Whicher



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



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