This post was most recently updated on October 17th, 2017
English hoaxes have ranged far and wide in the subject of their pranks – from pretending to be foreign royalty to offering evidence of mystical creatures and alien life. It seems there’s nothing some people like more than pulling the wool over each other’s eyes. We take a look at some of the most famous tall tales concocted through the decades.
The Cottingley Fairies
Proof that even the most cerebral of people can be fooled by a simple hoax is provided by the case of the so-called Cottingley fairies.
In 1917 nine-year old Frances Griffiths and her sixteen-year old cousin Elsie were playing, as they often did, near the stream at the bottom of Elsie’s garden in Cottingley, Yorkshire. It was a pastime that wasn’t popular with their mothers, the girls often returning to the house with wet shoes and clothes. This time, though, they had their alibi at the ready: the reason they played there, they said, had nothing to do with the joy of splashing in the water; it was simply that they went to see the fairies.
One might suppose it wasn’t the kind of story any parent would fall for, but Frances and Elsie had proof – a series of photographs taken with a camera borrowed from Frances’s father. When two years later Elsie’s mother took them to a lecture on “Fairy life” and showed them to the speaker, the story assumed a life of its own.