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The Abandoned Children of Wailing Wood

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To be lost and alone, in a dark wood at night, must be a terrifying experience. Back in the 16th century, woods were much larger than today and getting lost in the dense undergrowth was easy.

You may have heard the well-known tale of the 'babes in the wood'. It is a sad tale of two abandoned children. The tale is set in Wayland Wood in Norfolk and nearby Griston Hall was once home to a very wicked uncle.

Robert de Grey of Griston Hall was a greedy and unscrupulous man. As his brother, a rich Norfolk landowner, lay dying, he saw an opportunity to increase his wealth. His brother's wife had recently died, leaving her husband to look after their two young children.

Realising that he himself was dying, his brother found the strength to summon Robert de Grey.
"Please be good to my poor children," he said, "and keep them carefully."
Robert looked indignant. "I swear to you in the sight of God," he replied, "I will ensure no harm ever comes to them."

Under the terms of their father's will, the boy would inherit three hundred pounds a year from his twenty first birthday and the little girl a sum of five hundred pounds on her marriage day - a lot of money in those days. But Robert de Grey knew, should the children die before this time, the money would, instead, be his.

Before 'a twelvemonth and a day' had passed, the wicked uncle made a plan to rid himself of the poor children. A bargain was made with two ruffians, for them to kidnap the children and kill them in the nearby woods. He then covered his tracks, by telling his wife that he had sent the children to London to stay with a friend. The children went off happily, lured by the idea of pleasant games.

However, the sight of the two innocent children pricked one of the ruffians' consciences and he could no longer carry out the wicked deed. The other was of a much harder heart and vowed to do it because he had been well paid. They argued violently and fought. The one who had taken pity on the poor children killed the other. He then took the terrified children deeper into the woods and, leaving them, said he would return later and bring them bread.

They never saw him again and, as night came, the hungry and tired children were left to cry and wail in the woods. As the darkness closed in, the cold and unfamiliar wood was a frightening place. The young children were scared and alone, with only blackberries to eat.

After a few days without food, the children sat down in the shelter of an old oak tree. Here they died in each other arms.

The robins of the wood took pity on them and covered them carefully with leaves.

If the wicked uncle thought that he would benefit from the children's money, he was mistaken, for the wrath of God fell upon him.

His sleep was filled with nightmares and spirits haunted his house. He was in a hell from which there was no escape. Misfortune followed him, his barns were set alight, his crops failed, his cattle died and his rich estate lay ruined.

After not many months, his debts mounted and he was imprisoned, where he died, penniless and alone.

The surviving ruffian was caught and condemned to death for another crime. With nothing to lose, he confessed what had happened and the true fate of the babes became known.

For many years the great oak tree stood sadly in Wayland Wood, as a reminder of the wicked act. The robins that covered the children with leaves were honoured locally. It was believed that any person taking a robin's eggs would come by misfortune before a year was out.

The great oak tree was destroyed by lightning some years ago and Griston Hall is now a farmhouse. However the babes have not been forgotten. They are still pictured on the Griston village sign, with wicked Uncle Robert lurking nearby. The sign is not the only reminder of that sad incident, for it is said Wayland Wood used to be called Wailing Wood, and if you listen carefully, on a dark night, the cries of the babes can still be heard.

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