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The Cottingley Fairies: A Study in Deception

How did the creator of the astute detective Sherlock Holmes get deceived by two girls from Yorkshire? Find out at a free talk about upcoming exhibition, ‘The Cottingley Fairies: A Study in Deception'.

December 2020 marks the centenary of the publication by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the infamous Cottingley Fairies photographs in the ‘Strand Magazine’.

Join guest curator Dr Merrick Burrow for this introductory talk and learn the story of why Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two girls from Cottingley near Bradford, faked the famous fairy photographs— and how. It will also investigate the reasons why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, came to believe the photographs were genuine.

The Brotherton Library holds the archive in which almost all the major materials relating to the Cottingley Fairies are held. Using items from the Special Collections the talk will show how Conan Doyle’s long-standing interest in spiritualism gradually hardened into a blinkered obsession, and how this led him to risk his reputation by endorsing the fairy photographs as genuine. The story these objects tell is that of an accidental hoax. Neither Frances, Elsie nor Sir Arthur set out to deceive the world. And yet it became perhaps the greatest photographic hoax of the twentieth century.

These materials will be put on public display for the first time in the forthcoming exhibition 'The Cottingley Fairies: A Study in Deception'. It will also include cameras kindly loaned by the Science Museum Group, including one of the cameras given to Frances Griffiths by Conan Doyle in 1920. The camera is held in the collections at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, alongside other Cottingley Fairies objects including two further cameras used by Elsie and Frances; correspondence between them; original prints; and watercolour sketches by Elsie.

This event will be hosted online on Zoom. The joining link will be emailed to registered attendees one day before the start time.

Image: BC MS Cottingley Fairies/6/10, Frances and the fairies. Image credit Leeds University Library.