Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, February 25, 2013

THE COTTINGLEY FAIRIES by Frances Brody

Today, I'd like to welcome the wonderful historical mystery author, Frances Brody to History Undressed! If you haven't read her book, Dying in the Wool, the first in the Kate Shakelton mystery series, you will want to pick it up, I absolutely loved it! The second book, A Medal for Murder has just released!


THE COTTINGLEY FAIRIES

by Frances Brody

Dying in the Wool, my 1920s Kate Shackleton mystery novel, is set in the fictional mill village of Bridgestead, Yorkshire, based on the real life village of Cottingley. Researching my location, I took a train to Bingley, and walked to Cottingley. There, in 1917, cousins Elsie Wright, age 16, and Frances Griffiths, age 10, photographed fairies.

I crossed the old stone bridge and walked by the beck (stream) where the girls once played. Frances Griffiths arrived with her mother from South Africa in 1917. After the heat of Africa, Cottingley in spring enchanted Frances. The water murmured its song. She watched butterflies, dragonflies, and saw fairies. Such sightings were not new. Author William Riley knew the Yorkshire dales well. He talked to several people who had spotted pixies in Upper Airedale and Wharfedale.

The girls were scolded for coming home with wet feet, late for tea. In true the-dog-ate-my-homework style, Frances explained that they had stayed so long by the beck because they were watching fairies. They could prove it, too.

Elsie borrowed her father’s Midg quarter-plate camera. Arthur, a keen amateur photographer with his own dark room, dismissed the fairy photographs as a prank.

There are five photographs: Frances with leaping fairy; Frances with five fairies; Elsie with gnome; fairy offering a harebell to Elsie; fairy sunbath. 

In 1919, Elsie’s mother Polly, believing the photographs to be genuine, attended the Bradford Theosophical Society lecture, “Fairy Life”. She showed the photographs to the speaker. The Theosophical Society then displayed the photographs at their Annual Conference in Harrogate. Human evolution towards perfectibility was a central tenet of the Society. According to the editor of Spiritualist Magazine, the photographs showed an example of life forms which had ‘developed along some separate line of evolution.’ Among a war-weary and bereaved public, many wanted to believe that here was a corner of fairyland.

Arthur Conan Doyle supplied a camera, to ensure there was no possibility of tampering with a fresh photograph. He studied the photographs carefully, had them analysed, and pronounced them authentic.
It was too late for Elsie and Frances to admit that Elsie had traced images of fairies from a book and created cut-outs. Their ‘bit of fun’ had fooled too many clever people. They were embarrassed. In the 1980s, the cousins came clean. Elsie said, ‘Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet.’

From the first, there were sceptics. Poet and essayist Maurice Hewlett wrote in John o’London’s Weekly, ‘It is easier to believe in faked photographs than in fairies.’

Frances continued to maintain that the last photograph was genuine. Frances’s daughter shares this view, as does Joe Cooper, author of “The Case of the Cottingley Fairies.”

Did I catch a glimpse of gossamer wing on my visit to Cottingley? Sadly, no. But there is a certain way of looking, from the corner of the eye, while lying very still in long grass, and feeling the earth’s energy. Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, meet the fairies: http://www.cottingleyconnect.org.uk/

For more about Frances Brody and the Kate Shackleton books, visit www.frances-brody.com

Photographs of Cottingley Town Hall,  Beckfoot Bridge and the waterfall courtesy of Margaret Krupa



A pawn-shop robbery -

It's no rest for the wicked as Kate Shackleton picks up her second professional sleuthing case. But exposing the culprit of a pawn-shop robbery turns sinister when her investigation takes her to Harrogate - and murder is only one step behind ...

A fatal stabbing -

A night at the theatre should have been just what the doctor ordered, until Kate stumbles across a body in the doorway. The knife sticking out of its chest definitely suggests a killer in the theatre's midst.

A ransom demand -

Kate likes nothing better than a mystery - and nothing better than solving them. So when a ransom note demands £1,000 for the safe return of the play's leading lady, the refined streets of Harrogate play host to Kate's skills in piecing together clues - and luring criminals out of their lairs ...

1 comment:

Judith Gilbert said...

A lovely account Frances. Even now when visiting this lovely place,no one can resist the hope of seeing a fairy!