The Green Children of Woolpit

By Marion Wijnberg

There are two historians with their own version of the tale about the Green Children of Woolpit. One of the historians is Ralph of Coggeshall and the other is William of Newburgh. Ralph claimed to have heard the story first hand from Richard de Caine himself and wrote about it in 1189 called the Chronicon Anglicanum. Ralph and William have their own version of the story, but the underlying tale is the same. William was a monk and historian and his version was only published around 1220. Supposedly he had sources that were trustworthy when remembering the tale of the green children of Woolpit.

Center Square, Woolpit

During the reign of King Stephen in the 12th century (1135-1154), there was an ancient story of two children, a brother and sister, who appeared to have green colored skin. They were discovered by a local worker who lived in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England. They were standing by a wolf pit, wolf-trapping pits which is apparently how the village got its name. These wolf pits were crafted in such a way to catch wild and dangerous wolves, so they were big, much taller than the children and took up at least two hundred square feet.

According to accounts, the children couldn’t remember how they arrived at Woolpit. All they could remember was they had been tending to their father’s cattle, got lost and followed the sound of bells chiming and suddenly found themselves by this wolf pit. Another account says they got lost after entering a cave and when they heard the bells followed the sound that in due course led the two to Woolpit.

A worker came upon the two children and took them into town. A villager and the chief landowner by the name of Sir Richard de Calne, took the children in to live with him. 

Not only did their skin give off a greenish color, but they didn’t speak a word of English. The clothes they wore were also not of that region. These children weren’t like every day orphans. Everything was unknown and unfamiliar about them, their skin color, clothing and the language they spoke down to even what they ate. They only ate raw dark colored beans. Over time, healthier foods were introduced to their diet and it seemed their green-like pastiness faded. As a result, the sister became healthier and shortly after the two were baptized, the young boy became ill and passed away, leaving his sister alone with Sir Richard de Caine and his family.

Over time, the girl was taught to speak English and after learning the language quite well, explained that she and her brother came from a different land, somewhere deep within the earth where the sun never rose and there was never a sunset either. It was more like dawn or dusk that lasted all day and all night. The girl said they called that land, St. Martin’s Land. She also claimed that everything there was green too. But that begs the question, if there was no sunshine to provide some sort of photosynthesis for plants to be green and grow, how could everything in St. Martin’s Land be green?

Thetford forest, Norfolk/Suffolk border

Some of the more unusual theories proposed for the origin of the children are that they were “Hollow Earth” children, another being the children suffered from an iron-deficiency from not eating right which supposedly can also lead to the skin having a greenish appearance.

Other theories are one of arsenic poisoning and they were left to die in the forest near the village. However probably the closest one resembling reality is that the children were actually Flemish immigrants whose parents were killed maybe during the battle of Fornham in 1173. Fornham St. Martin was a nearby village where the only thing separating it from Woolpit was a river. Also, in close proximity was Bury St. Edmunds where bells often rang. So, the possibility of the children now orphans, hearing the bells, followed the chiming which ultimately lead them to Woolpit.

These two angles of the story ruled the clarifications of the green children of Woolpit. Regardless, it was held as the optimal fictional story by Herbert Read, an English poet and critic in 1931. And in 1934, the same story provided him with the necessary material for his novel entitled, The Green Child, in 1934.

Whatever the true backstory is, one still wonders if it could be a very imaginative story that has survived folklore throughout time or some bungled versions of actual events in history?

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Marion Wijnberg


Marion lives in Ohio and has two grown children and one grandson. As well as loving the time she gets to spend with them, she also enjoys rescuing animals. Marion currently has 2 cats and a dog. She also loves to travel, read, play tennis and go horseback riding."