• Fraser du Toit

The Green Children of Woolpit - Little Lost Goblins

In the 12th Century, 2 lost children showed up in the village of Woolpit, England. Both children seemed dazed and disorientated. They spoke not a word of English, but an unidentifiable language. Most strange of all was the fact that they had green skin.



How Do We Even Know About This?



Woolpit, Suffolk, is a small village with a relatively uneventful history. Only 1,995 people call Woolpit their home, as of the 2011 census. Little Woolpit is named after the wolf pits, which were used to capture and kill the native wolves.

Nestled between Stowmarket, and Bury St Edmunds, the village of Woolpit has never been of great regional significance. This blissful tranquility was disrupted by a ripple of excitement when the green children stumbled onto the scene.

According to two medieval writers, William of Newburgh, and Ralph of Coggeshall, the event occurred roughly in the 12th Century. William recorded the appearance and subsequent life of the children in his Historia rerum Anglicarum which deals with the period of English history between 1066 and 1198. Ralph wrote about the event in his Chronicon Anglicanum which similarly covers 1066 to 1224.

Both of these men told similar tales of the Green Children of Woolpit, but there are some key differences. The details of the modern legend are a conflation of both accounts.


The Legend of The Green Children of Woolpit



It might have been during the reign of King Stephen, that the reapers went out from Woolpit. They thought only to collect the harvest and return home in time for supper.

Fate had other plans for the hardworking folk of Woolpit on that day. They stumbled upon a strange pair, trembling, in a wolf-ditch. Two young children, wearing clothes of a style unknown to the reapers and with skin the color of the leaves adorning the surrounding trees, greeted the villagers. Their language was indecipherable to the good people of Woolpit.

Instead of fleeing in terror from the goblins that they had found, the reapers took them in. They needed some guidance, so they took the green children to the house of a local knight, Richard de Calne. Surely an educated man of status would know what to do with the mysterious children.

Richard took the children in and sat them by his table. He attempted to reassure the confused children, but they could not understand him. Their language was alien to him as well.

The green youngsters were clearly in need of food, their little bodies were weak with hunger. Food was brought to them, bread, meat and vegetables were all presented to the hungry children. Despite their ravenous need, they rejected everything they were given. The children seemed confused and distrustful of the food, as if they had never seen such things before.

Finally, an exasperated servant brought out a bowl filled to the brim with raw beans. Upon seeing the beans, the little goblins called out with glee. They happily snatched up the beans, stalks and all, but were dismayed when they tore open the stems. Bemused, the servant showed them how to open the pods, and the children glutted themselves on the uncooked legumes within.

As time passed, the siblings grew to trust their caretakers and the food that they brought. The pickiness faded as they slowly began learning English. Soon the green children found themselves in the local church, Saint Mary's. There they were baptized as was the custom of the time.

Shortly after their baptism, the youngest of the pair fell ill and died. His body didn't adapt well to life as an Englishman, it seems. Not enough beans, probably.

The girl, now alone, slowly developed into a woman, and as she grew her green skin faded into the complexion of a Brit. Soon she was fluent enough to recount her tale, and what a tale it was.


Lured by the Bells


Church of St Mary in Woolpit, Suffolk, England. A Grade I listed medieval church.
Ding Dong

Agnes, the name the girl took, claimed to have trouble recalling the time before the wolf pit. According to her:


“We are ignorant [of how we arrived here]; we only remember this, that on a certain day, when we were feeding our father’s flocks in the fields, we heard a great sound, such as we are now accustomed to hear at St. Edmund’s, when the bells are chiming; and whilst listening to the sound in admiration, we became on a sudden, as it were, entranced, and found ourselves among you in the fields where you were reaping.”

By her own admission, she had trouble remembering where she was from. This didn't stop her from recounting a very weird tale about their homeland. Whether it was simply a yarn that she had spun, or the truth, Agnes told quite the fantastical story.

The place that they had come from was called St. Martin's Land. It existed in perpetual twilight, never slipping into true day or night. There flowed a mighty river at the edge of St Martin's Land that separated it from other lands.

One day, they heard the sound of the bells calling them. They followed the bells through a cave, and emerged into the blinding brightness of the English countryside. This must have been on one of the few occasions when the sky over Woolpit wasn't overcast, as is the stereotype.

Did we mention that everything in St Martin's Land was green?


Goblins?! Aliens?! Fairies?! Sick Children?!


So many theories have been put forward to try and explain who, or what, the children were. Some theories are clearly more plausible than others. We'll start with the least likely and slowly turn down the fun until we've whittled it down to boring reality.



They were definitely aliens. It all makes sense now! Small green humanoids wearing strange clothes and speaking a language not readily identifiable to a probably uneducated medieval peasant. The story about a world where the sun never fully rises or sets, and everything is green, sounds 100% like a place a writer for Star Trek would dream up.

John Clark wrote a paper titled: "Small, Vulnerable ETs": The Green Children of Woolpit, which was published in a Science Fiction Journal in 2006. He sums up the theory put forth by Duncan Lunan:


"The most developed of these extraterrestrial hypothesis is Duncan Lynan's. In a 1996 article entitled, Children from the Sky, published in the sf magazine, Analog. Lunan has summarized his painstaking study of medieval documentary sources and his reconstruction of the family history of Richard de Calne (he concludes that the green girl was baptized Agnes and later married one Richard Barre, a royal official), combining this with a completely science fictional solution to the mystery of the Green Children. His explanation posits a human colony on a distant planet, established there by aliens. This planet is trapped in synchronous orbit around its sun so that one hemisphere is bathed in perpetual fierce sunlight, the other forever frozen, and only a narrow twilight zone habitable. The broad river that separates the children's land from the bright land beyond serves as part of the temperature control system. Alien plants are genetically modified to be edible by humans, with a side effect of coloring the human skin green; and transport to and from Earth is provided by a matter-transmitter that is a combination of the quantum scanning and wormhole systems. To this Lunan adds the ever-popular Templar knights, involved in secret negotiations with extraterrestrials entities, and a twelfth century government conspiracy to hush the matter up."

Oh, look! The Knights Templar were involved somehow, let's pivot here before the conspiracy theory devolves any further.



Another theory, which is somewhat similar to the abandoned alien tots, is that the children come from the Fairy Realm. While some have speculated that the ancient tales of fairy encounters were simply an interpretation of encounters with aliens, the theory has been put forth that the Green Children of Woolpit were of the Fae.

Stories of fairies are part of the cultural fabric of England. They have been around since time immemorial. Could the Green Children have been lost fairies?



The Earth is hollow! Because of course it is. This theory is a bit more plausible than the flat earth theory. If only marginally. While there is no empirical evidence to support this theory, there are a whole host of anecdotal reports, like the time Admiral Byrd flew over the North Pole and into a big hole that led to the inner Earth.

The connection to the Green Children of Woolpit has to do with the version of the story where the children were drawn into a cave. They emerged from this hole into the blinding brightness that England is so well known for.



Around the time that the children appeared on the scene, there were a pretty sizable number of Flemish immigrants setting up lives in England. One theory suggests that the children were simply lost immigrants. For this theory to work, one must assume that Agnes' recollection of her past life was simply the fabrication of a young mind. She may have had no true memories of her origin, but aided by the legend of her discovery, she could have fabricated a false memory.

Why were they green? That could be due to a condition called Chlorosis. Those suffering from malnutrition can, under certain circumstances, display green-tinted skin. That explains why the kids became less goblinoid as they expanded their culinary horizons. What it fails to explain is why the Green Children were distrusting of all food other than beans.

That brings us to the third facet of this theory, the Green Children escaped from a kidnapper. Imagine for a moment that you are the child of a Flemish immigrant. You frolic merrily about the English countryside when, suddenly, a burly stranger snatches you up. This villain takes you to his cave and keeps you there in the dark. Slowly, your skin turns green as he fails to feed you a nutritious diet. He often feeds you rotten food, so you grow to distrust food in general. Add to this the fact that he speaks English, and you explain most of the mystery.


Conclusion


While it is fun to speculate, it is impossible to extricate the truth of the Green Children of Woolpit from the legend. The lack of a time-machine means that we might never truly solve the mystery of the two little goblins discovered in a wolf pit. I guess a local myth is good for tourism.