One of my favorite stories from the annals of forteana would have to be the tale of the Green Children of Woolpit. Long before the days of the little green men, during the reign of King Stephen sometime in the twelfth-century, two frightened children made their way to a village outside of Suffolk, England and into the pages of history. The villagers were out reaping their harvests when they heard the crying of the children. The children came out of some ditches that had been dug to trap wolves outside of the village. The first thing that the villagers noticed that was odd about the children, a boy and girl of undetermined age, was the hue of their skin. It was green! As if this wasn't odd enough by itself, the children also had clothes that were of a bizarre color and material.
Additionally the children spoke no English and refused any offers to be fed. Not knowing what else to do with them, the reapers brought the children back into the village to see what would be the best course of action for dealing with the children. Unfortunately as the children spoke a strange language that none of the villagers recognized, no one knew what to feed them. After only a few days since their arrival, the villagers were desperate to feed the children. After all they had not eaten a least for a few days, so one of the villagers brought some beanstalks that had recently been harvested into the children. According to a story related to Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall by Sir Richard de Calne, whose house the children were staying, upon being given the beanstalks the children preceded to open the stalks (rather than the beans or pods) only to find them, naturally, empty. The villagers then showed the children where the beans were actually contained, and the children happily, and probably hungrily, ate the beans.
Not long after the children were brought into the village, they were baptized and seemed to be developing tastes for other foods, mostly bread. Unfortunately the boy, who seemed to be a little younger than the girl, grew increasingly depressed and sick. He eventually died from an unknown illness. The girl on the other hand seemed to adapt easily to her new home. As time went on, her skin lost it's green hue and she learned to speak English. All in all she seemed to assimilate into the life of the community quite well. Even to the point of marrying, at least according to some versions of this story.
Once she learned to speak English, the townsfolk were understandably curious about where her and the boy had come from and so they asked her. Her memory of life before being found in the fields was unfortunately quite blurry, but she was able to recall a few details about where she had come from. According to the girl, she and the boy were brother and sister from a county called St. Martin's. She was not able to give a location to this homeland, other than to state that it was constantly in darkness or twilight as she had called it. She went on to relate that a 'luminous' land could be seen across a great river from where she called home. All of the people that lived in the 'land of Saint Martin' had the green skin, just as her and her brother had.
Asked by the townsfolk how she and her brother had arrived in Woolpit, Suffolk, the girl related that they had been tended to their father's herd of animals, when the animals apparently ran into a cave. Dutifully the children followed the animals inside the darkness of the cavern. Once inside they heard beautiful bells going off, intrigued the children followed the sound hoping to find the source. This led them to wander the cave for many hours in darkness. Eventually, they saw a faint light that seemed to indicate that they were coming upon an opening. When the reached the opening, they were blinded by the bright sunlight and lay down dazed and disoriented for quite sometime. When they finally came to, they heard the sounds of the reapers working in the fields. This frightened them and they hastily scrambled to search for the entrance of the cave that they had just exited. Unfortunately, no amount of searching led them to the opening that would allow them to return home.
Thus they began weeping and were eventually found by the villagers. And that brings us to the end of this strange tale. There are of course many alternative mundane explanations for what may have happened. There are dietary conditions that could have caused the children to have the strange skin hue and any disorientation this caused would have caused them quite a lot of distress. Additionally at the time the small village of Suffolk was quite insular, so that if the children spoke even a slightly different dialect of English it's entirely likely that the townsfolk would have been unable to understand a word they said. I can't help but wonder though if there wasn't a bit more to the story than this.
I find the girl's description of their homeland fascinating for one and I can't help but think of the “Hollow Earth” theory when I read it. The idea of the children coming from a land of eternal twilight, through a cave and into the sunlight? To me this screams of Hollow Earth inhabitants. Of course alternatively it also has kind of a “Fairy Realm” feel to it. The green skin, strange clothes and speech, and the inability to eat 'mortal' food? It's all there, but likely that's just my occasional flights of fancy kicking in. Sadly as the story is over eight hundred years old we may never really know what the true origins of the children were. Or, for that matter, if they ever existed. Still for my money, this is one of the more intriguing tales of people from elsewhere.
Follow Tony on Twitter