Away with the fairies
Country Life UK|November 11, 2020
One hundred years ago, two girls convinced the world they had photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. However did they get away with it, asks Richard Sugg
Richard Sugg
FROM where I was, I could see the hatpins holding up the figures. I’ve always marvelled that anybody ever took it seriously,’ admitted Frances Griffiths in 1981, more than 60 years into the greatest hoax of the century. However did they get away with it for so long? Luck and accident were certainly part of this amazing British myth, but, more than that, the ‘fairy photographs’ taken by Frances and her cousin Elsie Wright offered a world of mystery and childish innocence to a nation traumatised by the horrors of war.

After the girls took the first two photographs, in July and September 1917, they came to the attention of Edward Gardner, a prominent member of the Theosophical Society; Elsie’s mother, Polly, was herself involved in Theosophy. Spiritualist movements were on the rise due to the mass bereavements suffered in the First World War and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had himself lost a son and a brother, would come to be the fairies’ most famous advocate. For all the forensic rigour of Sherlock Holmes, the author reacted against certain elements of late-Victorian science, which he feared ‘would have left the world hard and clean and bare, like a landscape in the moon’.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM COUNTRY LIFE UKView All

Who killed cock robin?

Referred to by Chaucer as ‘Robert redbreast’ and long a cheerful symbol of Christmas, the sweet-songed robin is so combative it will attack its own reflection, reveals Ian Morton

6 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Remembrance through rose-tinted glass

Hauntingly beautiful, stained-glass scenes keep the memory of our Fallen alive in glorious technicolour. Andrew Green visits country churches to seek them out

7 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Let's talk turkey

They’re easy to rear, they’re friendly and they needn’t only be for Christmas. Kate Green talks to turkey experts, who explain why we should be eating the heritage breeds

6 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Oh sing, choirs of angels

Loosely translated as ‘when the cock crows at dawn’, Plygain carol services have been held in Welsh churches on Christmas Day since the 13th century, as Aeneas Dennison reports

3 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Riches not measured in coin

The Cathedral of St Mary and St Ethelbert, Hereford This year marks the 700th anniversary of the canonization of Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford. John Goodall looks at the story of this building and the way it was shaped by a remarkable figure

9 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Rockin' around the Christmas tree

Bombarded as we are in the preceding weeks, for many, it is the ritual choosing and dressing of the tree that marks the start of Christmas, says Jack Watkins

7 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Born to be wild

Once widespread across the British Isles, there are now fewer than 100 pure Scottish wildcats left. Joe Gibbs considers whether curiosity or interbreeding killed the ‘Highland tiger’

4 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Christmas comes but once a year

And when it does, it (mostly) brings good cheer, although some professions certainly enjoy it more than others

7 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

A High Road To Clean Energy

THE path to ending fossil-fuel emissions by 2050 is ‘ambitious and affordable’, according to a report published last week.

2 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020

Because You're Mine, I Walk The Line

Crunching across winter stubble on a frosty December morning, John Lewis-Stempel gives thanks for the wildlife sustained by the old millet stalks and endeavors to train his labrador to walk to heel, aided by a handful of cheese

4 mins read
Country Life UK
December 16 - 23, 2020
RELATED STORIES

NOBEL PRIZES AND COVID-19: SLOW, BASIC SCIENCE MAY PAY OFF

While the world wants flashy quick fixes for everything, especially massive threats like the coronavirus and global warming, next week’s Nobel Prizes remind us that in science, slow and steady pays off.

4 mins read
AppleMagazine
October 09, 2020

A Low-Key 'Secret Garden' That Still Blooms

For more than a century, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” first published in 1911, has endured.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #459

MODERNIZING TRADITIONS

Great Britain and Ireland lost over 750,000 soldiers in World War I.

9 mins read
American Art Collector
August 2020

Bingely Books

Bingely Books

2 mins read
Athleisure Mag
April 2020

Ascend: Sea Heroes

Sea Hero FRANCESCA VIRDIS Bringing divers together to protect Bonaire’s greatest treasure

4 mins read
Scuba Diving
May 2020

Heroes of the Camping Ministry

You may be familiar with the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

3 mins read
White Wing Messenger
May 2020

SNOWED IN

Nathaniel Currier published Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s lithograph American Winter Scenes: Morning in 1854. At that time, James Merritt Ives was his bookkeeper.

5 mins read
American Art Collector
February 2020

From the Cut: The Bohemian

How the designer behind Marni makes fashion fun.

4 mins read
New York magazine
January 6–19, 2020

Gifted & Talented Actress Frances Turner

Actress Frances Turner stars as Belle Mallory in the 4th and final season of the critically acclaimed Amazon Prime series "The Man in The High Castle,” which premiered on November 15, 2019.

6 mins read
Bronze Magazine
December 2019

Rhiannon Giddens Talks Back

In 2007, Rhiannon Giddens performed at the Folk Alliance International conference with the aspiring black string band Carolina Chocolate Drops.

7 mins read
OffBeat Magazine
January 2020