Green Children of Woolpit: EVELYN SPARROW tells how two “green” children mysteriously appeared in the Suffolk town of Woolpit during the 12th Century
On entering the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, visitors are greeted by a blackened, wrought iron sign. The sign depicts a church steeple, an eerie wolf silhouette and two children standing knee high in grass, clasping each other’s hands. The children have an ethereal green hue. The sign tells the story of the Green Children of Woolpit, a 12th century legend, which has left villagers baffled for generations.
During the reign of King Stephen (AD 1135-54), Woolpit village was named for the deep surrounding trenches that protected the inhabitants from falling victim to the prowling wolves of the deep, dark surrounding forest. One day during this time, two small children crawled out of these trenches – a boy and a girl, malnourished, frightened and speaking a language none could comprehend.
The children were garbed in clothes the style of which the villagers had never before seen. They were green – a dye not found in the Woolpit area during this period of history – and the colour was echoed on the skin and in the wide, bewildered eyes of the children.
Children of the forest
The green children were unable at first to communicate who they were and where they had come from, and the villagers were utterly dumbfounded. Records exist from two of the witnesses who found and cared for the children during the time – they took the children to the home of the local landowners Sir Richard de Calne, who cared for them and treated them with kindness. The witness’ records are described as reliable.
During the first year the children lived in the village, they ate nothing but green beans, which according to Celtic lore is the food of the dead. This lead to the villagers’ assumption that the children were some sort of faery folk. However, over the years, there have been a variety of other explanations as to where the children originated from and why they had a green pallor.
The little boy weakened over the first year and died, but the girl – named Agnes – grew strong and learnt English, eventually being able to communicate something about where she came from. The place she described was clearly no area of England and it further convinced the villagers of her other-worldly origins.
The place she described she called St Martin’s Land, describing it as an area of constant twilight where the full sun never shone. She said it was a Christian place and it was described as being constantly green. Her home, she said, was separated from a sunnier land by a huge, wide river.
When asked how she and her brother had stumbled upon Woolpit, the girl said they had been following their flocks and found an underground passageway, they had followed the sound of church bells and come out the other side of the tunnel into the trenches at Woolpit, seeing dazzling, bright sunlight.
As she grew up, Agnes started to eat a varied diet, growing strong in physical and mental health, and eventually losing the green hue to her skin. It is said that she married a man from King’s Lynn in Norfolk and went on to have children.
Theories about the Green Children of Woolpit
Theories regarding the origins of Agnes and her brother are abundant. Some people think the tale of a green world, constantly bathed in twilight suggests the children came from a subterranean world. Astronomer Duncan Lunan said at a conference in 1997 that he believed the green children were alien beings accidentally transported to Earth.
Another explanation, from investigator Paul Harris, suggested is that the children were poisoned with arsenic by their uncle – a medieval Norfolk earl – and abandoned in Thetford forest. The arsenic failed to kill the children outright, instead poisoning them leaving them physically sick, and mentally confused and disoriented. Arsenic also has the potential to cause chlorosis, which leaves the skin green. However, this doesn’t explain the strange language they spoke.
Harris also offered the theory that the children were Flemish in origin – as during the time of Henry II (around 1173), many Flemish merchants were persecuted and slaughtered. Perhaps the parents of these children were killed but the children escaped into the shadowy forest.
The Green Children of Woopit Today
We may never discover the origins of the Green Children of Woolpit, but as Agnes lived, married and potentially bore children, there could be descendants living today. In fact, Duncan Lunan is said to have found evidence that he is a direct descendant of Agnes.
Many people in the area still believe the children represent a visit from the Faery folk who, childish and confused, grew up among humans. Others claim that the story is just an entertaining myth.
This wonderful tale is still told and re-told by the villagers of Woolpit. Celebrated on wrought iron signs and embroidered on church banners, the legend of the Green Children of Woolpit lives on.