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The Green Children of Woolpit

The Green Children of Woolpit - origins

When did the events occur?

Wolf Pits
  • Wolf Pits
  • Chroniclers (news writers of the time) have stated that the events took place within the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) or King Henry II (1154-1189); it depends on which version of the story you read. There are two versions, one in Suffolk and one in Norfolk, only a few miles apart.

    Did the green children really exist?

    Woolpit Village Sign
  • Woolpit Village Sign
  • It is likely that villagers found two strange children, as they are talked about in old writings, but the exact details, places and dates are different in the two tales.

    The children are still remembered on the Woolpit village sign today and on the church alter cloth.

    Some sources say that the girl became known as Agnes Barre, as happened in the story, and she married a man from King's Lynn. However, it cannot be proved if Agnes Barre really was the original green girl. The description Agnes gave about her strange homeland cannot be proved either, but some of the ideas people had, that may explain it, are given below.

    How could their appearance be explained?

    Twilight World
  • The girl said they came from a twilight world
  • A number of ideas have been put forward to explain the strange colour of the children. The people of Woolpit believed that the children's guardian, a Norfolk Earl, tried to poison the children with arsenic. He then left them to die in Thetford Forest on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. He would then be able to take control of their lands and money. Arsenic poisoning can make the skin a green colour. However the children were later found, still alive but very confused and ill.

    Another explanation, suggested by Paul Harris in 1998, is that they could have been children whose parents had been killed in a period of local fighting. In Eastern England there had been a lot of Flemish people coming in (immigration) during the 12th Century, but after Henry II became king, these immigrants were persecuted. In 1173, many were killed near Bury St Edmunds. He suggests the children may have been from the nearby village of Fornham St. Martin, which was separated from Woolpit by the River Lark.

    If the children had fled into Thetford Forest, it would be so shady, that it would have seemed like twilight to the young, scared children. At last, as they followed the sound of the church bells of nearby Bury St. Edmunds, they may have wandered into one of the many underground mine passages around Thetford, that finally led them to Woolpit. Confused, frightened and dressed in strange Flemish clothes, they would have seemed a very odd sight to the Woolpit villagers.

    The colour of the Green Children could be explained by "green sickness", the name once given to anaemia, caused by a poor diet. Once they had been given proper food, their colour returned to normal.

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