Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Adventure of the Cottingley Fairies

When Frances Griffiths (aged 9) and Elsie Wright (aged 14) took photographs of ‘fairies’ in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley in the summer of 1917 they meant simply to play a practical joke on their parents. But when, three years later, prints of the photographs found their way into the hands of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, they ignited a controversy that led to the most enduring photographic hoax of all time.

Many have since wondered how the creator of the supremely rational Great Detective could have been so deceived and why he would have risked irreparable damage to his reputation by giving his endorsement to the photographs. Some point to Conan Doyle’s public conversion to spiritualism as a sign that he had turned his back on facts and reason in later life. Others have suggested that his judgement was impaired by the impact of personal tragedies during the Great War. But neither of these explanations fully explains the facts of the case, and neither gets to the heart of the accidental conspiracy at the heart of the mystery. In this talk Dr Merrick Burrow, Head of English and History at the University of Huddersfield and an expert on Conan Doyle, will explore the details of this fascinating story and attempt to answer the puzzling questions it poses.


Merrick Burrow is Head of English and History at the University of Huddersfield. He is a literary and cultural historian of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries. His publications include book chapters and journal articles on detective fiction, Conan Doyle and spiritualism. Merrick curated ‘The Cottingley Fairies: a Study in Deception’ to mark the centenary of Conan Doyle’s publication of the photographs in the Strand Magazine in 1920, which was the first major public exhibition of materials from the archive held at the Brotherton Library. He is currently writing a book on the history of deception.

Hosted by

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site and her website

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day