9 months ago

This England

This England is the quarterly magazine for all who love our green and pleasant land and are unashamedly proud of their English roots. Published since 1968 the magazine has now become one of England’s best loved magazines and has a readership of over 115,000 people from around the world. As well as being popular in England it outsells all other British heritage magazines in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and is sent to readers in every country of the world. Published in Cheltenham, in the heart of picturesque Gloucestershire, the magazine is edited, printed and despatched direct from England. Subscribe today and celebrate all that is best about England and the English way of life.

Where Have all the

Where Have all the Fairies Gone? Where have all the fairies gone? Those “Little People” who once lived upon the airy mountain, in the rushy glen or roamed the haunted grove, are now most noticeable by their absence. Lately I have not read of anyone attending a fairy funeral (William Blake claimed to have witnessed one) or chancing upon a goblin market. Long ago and far away, belief in fairies and fays was commonplace. They were associated with spirits of the dead and fallen angels, who, being mortal, were not untainted by sin. A prolific number of the troublesome things were malignant, as for example Jenny Greenteeth, who hid in stagnant ponds and streams where she waited to drag unsuspecting victims down to a watery grave. Another was the nursery bogie, Rawhead-and- Bloody-Bones, who lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs, where he fed on naughty children. It was Shakespeare who first introduced us to the fairies and their kin that we are most familiar with today, as in Queen Mab, the weaver of dreams, in Romeo and Juliet and those spirited wisps of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is within the mystical glade of a wood near Athens where we first meet Oberon, king of the fairies, and his consort, the beautiful Titania and her elfin attendants: Peaseblossom, Moth, Mustardseed and Cobweb, along with that mischievous prankster whom some call Puck or Robin Goodfellow. Shakespeare’s concept of fairyland was probably influenced as much by Chaucer, whom he admired, as by popular ballads such as “Thomas The Rhymer” and “Tam Lin”, both of which relate how the protagonist is captured by fairies and detail their ensuing exploits and experiences in fairyland before being able to effect release. Shakespeare The fairies’ song in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene II. CLASSIC IMAGE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO was most certainly familiar with The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot, an English gentleman and Member of Parliament. Scot wrote his work primarily to discourage belief in witchcraft, and in so doing recorded other folklore and superstitions with regard to Puck, that most prominent figure in English fairy tradition who was once regarded as the patron of witches. His name is derived from the Middle English “Pook” or “Pouka” meaning elf or sprite, and similar names abound in other languages, though ecclesiastical interference has often resulted in him being associated with the devil. He is also known as a hobgoblin which simply means “the goblin named Hob”, which was merely a diminutive of Robin. In Puck of Pook’s Hill, Kipling portrays Puck as “the oldest Old Thing” and thus the best qualified to narrate the history of England through a series of short stories and songs. Kipling imbues Puck with his own imaginings of Albion’s glorious past, evoked through myth, legend and colourful historical discourse. Though fairies were first ascribed wings in 18th-century art, influenced by the religious images of putti — or cherubs as we are nowadays inclined to call them — it was the Victorian artists who popularised the notion of fairies having the power of flight. One of the most gifted exponents of this genre was Arthur Rackham whose wondrous depictions of diaphanouswinged creatures adorned the pages of many children’s books such as Rip Van Winkle, Peter Pan of Kensington Gardens, Undine and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Airborne elves and pixies had entered the nation’s psyche by 1917 when 16-year-old Elsie Wright borrowed her father’s Midj quarter-plate camera and took a photograph of her younger cousin, Frances Griffiths, seated before a group of dancing fairies by the beck at the bottom of their garden in Cottingley, Yorkshire. Two months later they took a second photograph which featured Elsie seated upon their lawn extending her hand towards a leaping gnome. The photographs languished in obscurity until three years later when they came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who had a keen interest in psychic phenomena. With the aid of theosophical lecturer, Edward Gardner, Doyle persuaded the girls to take further photographs, and, following some delay due to bad weather, they eventually produced a further three images. After having the plates

subjected to a series of tests by appointed experts, Doyle wrote The Coming Of The Fairies (1921) in which he endorsed the authenticity of the photographs. He sincerely believed that mankind was about to unlock the hermetic doorways that would lead into the realms of fairyland. Had Doyle employed the unsentimental logic of Sherlock Holmes he might have deduced that both he and his associates were victims of an elaborate hoax. It would be over 60 years before Elsie and Frances would admit that the photographs had been faked. Understandably, at the time, the Cottingley fairies attracted much publicity and possibly encouraged the formation of the Fairy Investigation Society — where else but in England would you find such a society? Founded in 1927 by Captain Sir Quentin C.A. Craufurd (who regularly corresponded with Doyle) and artist, engraver and writer Bernard Sleigh, the society’s principal aim was to collate all information on fairy sightings. A retired naval officer, Craufurd, who had studied physics at Greenwich College, was regarded as a pioneer of wireless technology and is credited with inventing the first remote radio device which pre-empted the mobile phone by decades. He also developed an “ether machine” that enabled him to converse with the marsh fairies that inhabited his house, though he was never able to see them, unlike his tame jackdaw who viewed them with disdain. Thanks to Craufurd’s magnetic persona, the society boasted an impressive membership which included eccentric aristocrat Lady Nina Alida Molesworth; Romany expert, Walter Starkie; sculptor Ola Chon; RAF commander Sir Hugh Dowding; Surrealist painter and author Ithell Colquhoun; spiritualist and erstwhile seeker of the Holy Grail, Wellesley Tudor Pole; and the mysterious Madame Zanoni among others. Amid disagreement over dogma, the society disbanded at the outbreak of the Second World War and was not resurrected until 1950, when they were fortunate enough to Photographs of the Cottingley fairies, which prompted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book (left). An Arthur Rackham illustration from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. WALKER ART LIBRARY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO enlist an energetic young woman called Marjorie T. Johnson who became secretary and editor of the F.I.S. newsletter. She proved a tireless campaigner for the cause and together with Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, the noted Scottish folklorist, began to conduct a survey into fairy encounters and canvassed the national press and periodicals for support. Upon receiving an encouraging numbers of replies, Marjorie (who as a young child had seen an elf in her own bedroom) commenced work on compiling a book of reported sightings from a wide cross-section of all social classes. Sadly, Marjorie died in 2011 aged 100, before her ceaseless labours bore fruit. Documenting over 400 reported sightings, Seeing Fairies as the work became known, was eventually published in 2014, due in no small part to the Herculean efforts of historian Dr. Simon Young who recognised the value of Marjorie’s research. Dr. Young has since relaunched the F.I.S. online; as a secular version of the original it is intended for those who have an interest in fairy-lore, “be they believers or ultra skeptics.” Though the society is now engaged in another survey of supernatural beings I fear they will garner few rewards and fairies as creeping urbanisation erodes our countryside, forcing every nixie, pixie and leprechaun into the ever-retreating wild places of this weeping world. And even if, dear reader, you do not believe in fairies, is it not comforting to know that we live in a nation that nurtures and cherishes such fascinating individual oddities as Elsie Wright, Edward Gardner, Quentin Craufurd, Wellesley Tudor Pole and Marjorie T. Johnson? All of whom are none the less enchanting than any Robin Goodfellow or Queen Mab of the moonbeams. LIN BENSLEY

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