There is an unassuming village in the South-East of England that may have played host to one of the most intriguing potential alien visitations ever recorded.
Woolpit, in Suffolk, is the setting for an ancient legend dating back to the 12th century, which describes an encounter with two strange beings known as "The Green Children of Woolpit."
According to the myth, residents of the village were shocked when the two green-skinned children, a boy and a girl, appeared mysteriously on the edge of a field in Woolpit and were found by reapers working in the fields at harvest time.
The children, who were dressed in a strange garb, could not explain where they were from or how they came to be there as they spoke in a strange language, but a local landowner, Sir Richard de Caine at Wilkes took pity on them and took care of them. The children initially refused food even though they appeared to be malnourished, but the villagers eventually found a food that they would eat in the form of recently harvested beans.
This formed their only diet for months, and the children quickly became very ill and sickly, with the result that the boy later died, however, the young girl survived and remained in the village for years. She thrived and eventually lost the greenish hue to her skin.
She eventually learned how to communicate with her new guardians, and was able to describe her homeland which she said was called "St. Martin’s Land", a shadowy place where the green-skinned residents lived in a permanent crepuscular atmosphere as there was no sun and the people lived underground. She also described that another ‘luminous’ land that was visible across a river from St. Martin’s Land.
The girl was able to describe how she and her brother arrived at Woolpit: she explained that they were tending her father’s flock when they discovered a cave. Intrigued, they entered and walked along a dark tunnel until they eventually emerged into unfamiliar bright sunlight, whereupon they were discovered by the reapers. Some accounts of the story say that she took the name of "Agnes Barre" and eventually married a man from the neighboring county of Norfolk.
The original records of the encounter were documented by two well-known chroniclers of the time: Ralph of Coggestall, who was an abbot at the Cistercian monastery in Coggeshall, and William of Newburgh (1136-1198 AD), an English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire, who recorded the details of the Green Children in his primary work, Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs).
As with all ancient legends, versions of events often differ and some testimonies allege that the Green Children encounter took place during the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) whilst others suggest it occurred during the reign of King Henry II (1154-1189). Prosaic explanations to account for the odd appearance of the children are convincing, and include one theory that the children were orphans who had been poisoned with arsenic, accounting for their greenish color, and left to die. Others suggest that they were suffering from Hypochromic Anemia, originally known as Chlorosis (coming from the Greek word ‘Chloris’, meaning greenish-yellow), a condition caused by inadequate nutrition. It affects the color of the red blood cells and results in a very distinctive green shade of the skin.
Some testimonies do support this theory as they indicate that the surviving child did return to a normal color after being fed properly. If the children were indeed malnourished, then their perceptions of their original surroundings could have been distorted, and some researchers, including Paul Harris writing in Fortean Studies 4 (1998) suggest that the children could have been Flemish orphans from nearby Fornham St. Martin (St. Martin’s Land?), which was separated from Woolpit by the River Lark. This would also tie in with the girl’s account of being able to observe another apparently sunny land across the river from her original homeland.
Certainly there had been an influx of Flemish immigrants at that time and these poor unfortunate souls had been persecuted, causing them to flee to the safety of Thetford forest, a huge, densely wooded area where the sun would rarely have been able to penetrate through the thick forest canopy. If the children had been living here, it would have seemed to be a very dim environment. Their Flemish language and clothing would have been unfamiliar to the Suffolk peasants, and they would have seemed very alien indeed. There are also numerous caves in the area into which the children may have strayed.
The children’s benefactor, Sir Richard de Caine, was a very well-educated man, however, who would have immediately recognised the Flemish language and dress, so this explanation may not be as convincing as it would first appear. Many myths and legends have some truth at their root, and some people believe that this tale is a description of a genuine alien encounter, either that, or they were children who had emerged accidentally from some subterranean world. There are tales of underground civilisations woven into the folklore of almost every country and culture in the world, and descriptions of similar encounters worldwide abound. In his book, "The Lost World of Agharti," Alec MacLellan describes some of these; the twilight worlds, often lit by a strange greenish light, seem to be consistent in many of the accounts.
Other testimonies of the event add fuel to the "other-worldly" theories: Robert Burton suggested in his 1621 book ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ that the green children "fell from Heaven", which is highly suggestive of an extraterrestrial encounter. Another article from 1996 by astronomer Duncan Lunan took this theory to its limits and proposed that the children hailed from another planet that was trapped in a very rigid orbit that provided only a limited band of habitable area, a "twilight zone," and that they had somehow been transported to Earth by accident.
The true facts may never be known, but the strange encounter has provided brain-fodder for historians and researchers for the past eight centuries. The village of Woolpit itself still commemorates the event in its village sign, which shows the two children hand in hand. if you have any theories regarding this legend, subscribe today to have your say!