Imagine if two random children with green-tinted skin and a strange gibberish language appeared in your town. Nobody knows where they came from, what their story is, or who their parents are. Over the years, they learn English and are finally able to provide more detail about their strange life before making it to your town. Centuries later, the accounts of the children and their origin get slightly mixed up, but they all have one thing in common: the green-skinned kids really did exist.

Who were the green children of Woolpit?

That’s what happened in the Woolpit village, in Suffolk in the United Kingdom. This extraordinary folk tale has its origins dating back to the 12th century. Today, the story is known as the tale of the Children of Woolpit, originally recorded by Ralph of Coggestall Abbey, who died in 1228 AD. It tells the story of the two lost children who appeared at the edge of a field. They took the villagers by surprise. Not only because they didn’t have their parents around, but also because of their unusual green-tinted skin. They didn’t even seem human. They were taken to the nearby home, which belonged to Sir Richard de Calne, who did his best to take care of the two strangers, despite the language barrier. 

But the children wouldn’t eat. They continued to refuse food until Sir Richard fed them beans that came straight from the ground. After a while, he was able to get them to eat normal food and eventually, their curious green complexion went away. 

They eventually learned to speak English and spoke more about their life. The contemporary writings record the following statement by the children: 

“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.”

The kids also explained that they lived in the underground area of a permanent twilight called St Martin’s Land.

What happened to the kids later?

Unfortunately, after some time, the boy of the duo passed away of an unknown illness. The girl, who was known to the locals as Agnes, later married Richard Barre, the archdeacon of Ely. And they seemed to have lived happily ever after. 

However, due to the story’s many versions over the years, it’s still unclear whether it’s just a mere legend or a true historical account. The original story was, unfortunately, lost in translation, with many other accounts of the children supposedly existing for centuries after. 

Other versions of the story

There are three versions that exist to this day, but the very first two were told by William of Newburgh and Ralph of Coggeshall Abbey. Both accounts take place roughly around the same time. Centuries later, the story got modernized and translated by Thomas Keightley in The Fairy Mythology, which was published in 1850. This is when the details of the original version started to slowly differentiate, which made it extremely difficult to find out what truly happened to the green children of Woolpit. 

There are at least two other versions of this account that existed back in 1200. They were accounts, written roughly around 60 years after the children supposedly first appeared.

But the children wouldn’t eat. They continued to refuse food until Sir Richard fed them beans that came straight from the ground. After a while, he was able to get them to eat normal food and eventually, their curious green complexion went away. 

Keightley’s adaptation of the story is slightly criticized due to the fact he referred to William of Newburgh as William of Newbridge. Since most newer accounts repeat this error, many seem to believe that many other details of the story have been officially lost in translation. 

The versions also don’t seem to agree when the boy passed away. Some stories mention that both of the kids were still alive when they were able to learn English. The boy only passed away after he was baptized by the kids’ caregiver. However, other versions claim that the boy passed away long before they were able to explain more about their life. The girl was the only one who learned English and told the story of eternal twilight. 

The Green Children of Woolpit theories

Due to the strange story, you can find plenty of theories of who the children really are and what actually happened in the Woolpit village. Some say that the children were aliens, sent from space – their green skin would make sense considering the aliens that we know are also supposedly green. 

Other theories are slightly more elaborate. The children stated that they come from an underground world, and many suspect that they have been held captive and brainwashed. Although the accounts say that the kids didn’t speak English, it could very well be that they were just speaking a foreign language or spoke an unknown dialect. 

Another theory focuses on the possibility that the children were Flemish immigrants who were taken away from their parents. Since the Flemish community was reportedly living in the area at the time, this is highly believable. The kids were only speaking in their native Flemish language, which is why nobody could understand them. The green tint to their skin could’ve been a result of poor nutrition and malnourishment, which would make sense why their skin turned back to normal once their diet improved. Some are stating that the skin could be a result of Chlorosis, also known as Hypochromic Anemia. It’s a result of a very poor diet that affects the red blood cells. 

Sunglish through a forest
Photo Courtesy: [DemonTraitor/Wikimedia Commons]
The strange underground land the kids described could be the Thetford Forest. Because of how the forest looked at night, the children could easily assume it was the place of the eternal twilight. The underground world could also be a mine passage, which would eventually lead them to the field in Woolpit. 

Studies and statements mentioning the children

Many of the theories behind the story come from official studies and various statements. One was done by Paul Harris called the Fortean Studies 4, published in 1998. It states that the time the children were discovered in Woolpit belongs to the reign of King Henry II. This would’ve had a large impact on the Flemish community and the children were most likely orphans. 

Robert Burton also mentioned the green children back in the 1621 book called The Anatomy of Melancholy. He states that the children were most likely extraterrestrials who, according to his words, fell from Heaven. Astronomer Duncan Lunan supported this theory in 1996 – his article stated that the kids were accidentally transported to Woolpit from their home planet. As they were transported, they fell into an orbit, which would be the place they described as eternal twilight. 

The children were also the inspiration for Herbert Read’s novel The Green Child. You can also find an adaptation of this novel by Kevin Crossley-Holland, which focuses on the girl’s point of view. The kids also inspired Randolph Stow’s novel The Girl Green as Elderflower

Some say that the children were aliens, sent from space – their green skin would make sense considering the aliens that we know are also supposedly green. 

Is Woolpit a real place?

Woolpit does indeed exist. It’s a village in the Suffolk region of the United Kingdom, a two-hour car ride from London. The village’s name translates to ‘pit for trapping wolves’. In 1978, a book written by folk singer Bob Roberts stated that there are a few people in Woolpit who are supposedly the green children’s descendants. However, Roberts was unable to discover who those people are. 

These days, the village is fairly quiet and mostly known for its curious folk tale. It holds two pubs, a grocery store, and several other residential amenities. However, the story of the green children became so popular, the village decided to honor it with a special sign, created in 1977. The all-black sign features a wolf and two green-colored children. 

Woolpit is the only area in the folk tale that appears to be real. The kids claimed they came from St  Martin’s Land, however, there were no signs that this underground world officially ever existed. 

What’s our conclusion?

Unfortunately, we might never know of the real, original story due to the many changes added over time. For one, other versions can’t seem to agree on how the children actually arrived in the village. The theories largely depend on the small details of the accounts, which is why it’s extremely important to find the original record of the children. Of course, there’s always the doubt that the story is simply another legend, created by those who wanted to bring some form of entertainment into their lives. Whether it’s real or not, we’ll never know. But one thing’s for certain – the green children really did put Woolpit on the map. 

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