Cottingley Fairies photography ‘hoax’ source disputed

December 6, 2010

Time articleStewart Sanderson makes the comments in today’s Times newspaper. However, Geoffrey Crawley, who died in October, was the first to apply scientific analysis to the Cottingley Fairies photos, disproving their authenticity once and for all

The Cottingley Fairies hoax was exposed a decade before Geoffrey Crawley applied photographic science to debunk the childhood prank, claims a former president of the Folklore Society.

Stewart Sanderson, a professor at the University of Leeds in the 1970s and a former president of the Folklore Society, makes the claim in today?s Times newspaper (see above).

In 1972 Sanderson donated the five Cottingley Fairies glass plates and correspondence to the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds.

The authenticity of the pictures had been endorsed by Edward Gardner, a theosophist, in 1920, and later by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

In a ‘personal view’ published in the Times‘ Register section, as a follow-up to its Obituary last month, Sanderson asserts: ?A complete set of the pictures and supporting evidence from Edward Gardner, Harold Schnelling and four members of the Kodak staff was deposited for safe keeping in the Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds.

?This was the material which formed the basis of my presidential address to the Folklore Society published in Folklore vol 84 (1973).

?Crawley?s articles of later dates in the British Journal of Photography (BJP) rehearsed all my survey, including my drawing attention to Edith (sic) Wright?s artistic talents and experience of photographic darkroom practices and also the Wright family?s sense of social inferiority to such a public figure as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

‘I believe that I outplaced Geoffrey Crawley by a good ten years.?

The long-running deception began as a childhood prank in 1917 when Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins, claimed they had captured photographic evidence of fairies near their home in Cottingley, West Yorkshire.

Geoffrey is widely acknowledged as the first to apply scientific analysis to the pictures, which he had begun as editor of BJP in 1982, and to have played an instrumental role in the uncovering of the longest-running photographic hoax.

Geoffrey’s wife, Carolyn, today declined to comment, adding that such a claim is ‘best ignored’.


Tributes to photo scientist Geoffrey Crawley

Mourners bid farewell to legend

Guardian newspaper obituary

BBC obituary

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