The village of Woolpit in Suffolk, once had a strange occurrence.

Legend tells that in the reign of King Stephen (during the 12th Century) two children emerged from near the Woolpits (from which the town got its name), scaring the bejeezus out of the locals.

The boy and girl (later to be discovered brother and sister) were dressed in strange clothes, spoke a strange and unknown language and had a green tinge to their skin.  Both appeared sickly but when offered food, flatly refused until they chanced upon raw beans, which they devoured.

The boy became more ill and died shortly after their discovery, however, the girl (who legend says later grew up to be named ‘Agnes Barre’) overcame the sickness and became healthy, learning English and eating all types of food, eventually losing the green hue in her skin.

She told the villagers that she and her brother came from a place where “the sun never shone and all light was like twilight”.  The locals at the time believe that this place might have been subterranean and the girl informed them that all the others who lived there also had green skin.  The place was called St. Martin’s Land.  She explained that another “luminous” land could be seen across a “considerable river” separating it from theirs.  She and her brother had been herding her father’s cattle when they heard a loud sound and suddenly found themselves near the woolpit, lost and alone.

Several theories abounded at the time, of extraterrestrials, an underground race of beings and all manner of fairytale creatures.  But could there be a simpler explanation?

At the time the story was told, Flemish immigrants were coming into the country by the hundreds.  They had settled not far from Woolpit, in a place they called Fornham St. Martin.  Dressing differently and speaking in a different language, which was then unknown to the locals, the Flemish would have seemed most peculiar.

The green tinge of the childrens’ skin may be explained by a dietary deficiency known as hypo-chromic anaemia or “green sickness” caused by lack of iron which reduces the red pigment in red blood cells, giving them a greenish tinge.  Theorists have put forward the idea that the childrens’ guardian (source unknown) tried to poison them with arsenic (also resulting in the green skin colouring) and left them to die on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in order to claim their lands and money.  This theory however, does not explain why the children claimed that the other people in their land also had green skin, so can probably be dismissed as local hearsay.

To summarise, I suspect that these children were of Flemish immigrant origin, living in poor times, with poor diet and got lost in the forest, ending up in Woolpit.  The people of Woolpit, not being able to understand any of the Flemish culture, not to mention the language or any sort of dietary needs at the time, may have created the story of strange beings from another world, which has enraptured many people since its first telling, but I expect is nonetheless, just a overly fabricated version of the truth.

Advertisements