Elsie Wright

Elsie Wright, whose photographs of the Cottingley Fairies were endorsed authentic by Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, was a student of Bradford Art College.

Elsie and one of the Cottingley FairiesBorn in 1901 to electrical engineer Arthur Wright and his wife Polly, Elsie Wright became famous in 1917 as one of the young girls who photographed ‘real fairies’ near her home in Cottingley.

Elsie was a talented watercolourist and accomplished painter of both landscapes and portraits and attended Bradford Art College. During WW1 she worked as an illustrator, designing Christmas cards in a Bradford Studio, and photographer, constructing composite photographs showing deceased soldiers with their family and friends.

On a Saturday afternoon in July 1917, Elsie took her father’s camera to photograph her 10 year old cousin Frances Griffiths. Later that afternoon when her father was developing the plate, he saw strange white shapes appearing and at first thought they were sandwich papers or birds. Elsie informed him they were fairies. She claimed they had seen real fairies at the bottom of their garden near Cottingley Beck, and she had photographed them with Frances to prove they really do exist.

The next month, Frances took an under exposed photograph of Elsie with a gnome, and as before, the plate was developed by Elsie’s father. Suspecting them of trickery, he banned the cousins from borrowing the camera again, but was so amused by the events he developed a few prints of each one. Both Elsie’s parents searched her bedroom and the beck for evidence, without success, and the girls stuck to their story.

Elsie’s mother Polly, like many others, believed in fairies and the supernatural, and was a member of Madame Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society. When a lecture on fairies was given at a local meeting, she was keen to tell her friends all about the photographs her daughter and niece had taken, and word soon spread.

In 1920, the photographs came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle via his friend Edward L. Gardner, a
Theosophist who absolutely believed the photographs to be authentic. By then, there were a total of 5 photographs. Sir Arthur endorsed them as real, and asked the Eastman Co and Kodak for their opinion. The photo experts later declared that they were not double exposures and the negatives had not been altered. It caused a media frenzy that was to last for decades.

In 1983, Elsie confessed on the BBC programme Nationwide that she had drawn the fairies, Frances had cut them out and they had stuck them on twigs using hat pins. She said they had done it because the adults had teased them about playing with the fairies.

Frances always maintained that fairies were real and she had seen them. Frances always claimed that one of the photos was genuine…

Photograph supplied by The Science Museum