The quaint Suffolk village of Woolpit was once called Wolfpit.
It has the distinction of being the place where the last English wolf was trapped and killed in a wolf pit. You’ll have seen the sort of thing in the movies; a pit disguised with a covering of leaves, baited with meat and lined with sharp stakes to impale the defenceless animal.
But this isn’t about the rights and wrongs of wolf pits. It’s about two children, a young boy and his older sister, who suddenly appeared by the wolf pit outside the village, one day in the mid-1100s.
They looked normal except they were dressed in unfamiliar clothing, spoke an unintelligible language and their skin had a strange green hue.
Two accounts were written soon after; one by a Yorkshire monk and the other by an Essex man who claimed to hear the tale from the lord who took the children in. While generally agreeing, both accounts have slightly different details.
Initially the children refused all food, until they saw green beans in the kitchen and wolfed them down. After some months they began to eat regular food, whereupon the strange green pallor faded.
Unfortunately, the boy grew ill and pined away. The girl survived, becoming a servant in the lord’s household and married a villager. In 1978 a local author claimed there were still people living in the area who traced their ancestry back to her.
After learning English, the girl said her home was a place called St Martin’s Land where the sky was perpetual twilight and everything was green. After taking shelter in a cave, she and her brother, emerged some hours later by the wolf pit at the village edge.
There are many explanations of the green children.
One suggests the children were aliens. Wild as this sounds, in 1621 Robert Burton claimed the children fell from heaven.
Another, the earth is hollow, and they came from the subterranean world beneath our feet. The idea of a hollow earth has been familiar to occultists for centuries. Around the same time the children appeared, Gerald of Wales wrote of a boy who wandered through an underground passage into a beautiful land not lit by the full light of the sun.
Some think the children came from fairyland. Green is a fairy colour and beans are associated with the dead and the otherworld.
Sceptics believe it is either a made-up folktale, or they were the children of local Flemish immigrants who got lost. They account for the colouration as Green Sickness – anaemia caused by dietary deficiency.
On examination the sceptical explanations hold no more water than the rest, so in the end, it all comes down to what you believe.