The Green Children of Woolpit: 12th Century Folktale of Guests from Middle Earth

When I was a young girl I read the 1864 sci-fi classic by author Jules Verne called “Journey to The Centre of The Earth.”  I revelled with the idea of a hollow earth where one would enter a vast cavern network and enter into a world that herald a lush Eco-system that fed giant creatures, mushrooms and people. I definitely would have enjoyed such an adventure. Then I came across an interesting legend of The Green Children of Woolpit.


Above Photo of  Woolpit, Suffolk, England Info map Public Domain.

This folktale takes place sometime during the 12th century in the sleepy village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England. The majority of researchers conclude it was during the reign of King Stephen of Blois December 22 1135 – October 25 1154. See illustration below.


Woolpit was taken from a record in the 10th century as Wlpit and later as Wlfpeta, derives from the Old English wulf-pytt, meaning “pit for trapping wolves”.

Legend has it that two green hued skin children, a brother and sister arrived at the edge of a nearby field. Reapers during Harvest time discovered the green children. They spoke an unknown language and only ate raw green broad beans. Eventually they would eat other food and lose their green hued skin. The boy became ill just after he and his older sister were baptised and the beryl lad died.

018330400_1460556367-20160413-Green_Children_of_Woolpit3Illustration of the abandoned Babes in the Wood by Randolph Caldecott, 1879

The girl lived on and learned to speak English, she explained that her and her little brother hailed from Saint Martin’s Land, a subterrestial world, a land of permanent twilight, colonised by green folks. She and her brother were caring for their father’s flocks of cattle when they suddenly wandered through a long cave that came out of the middle earth onto a field where the reapers discovered them.

She later married a man at King’s Lynn, in the nearby county of Norfolk. According to some accounts, she took the name ‘Agnes Barre’ and the man she married was an ambassador of Henry II.

Other authors deduce the children came from outer-space from another planet, some believe the children to be Lilliputian that came from the underworld of the Seelie and Unseelie faeries.

In a 1996 article published in the magazine Analog, astronomer Duncan Lunan hypothesised that the children were accidentally transported to Woolpit from their home planet as the result of a “matter transmitter” malfunction. Lunan suggests that the planet from which the children were propelled from may be trapped in synchronous orbit around its sun, presenting the conditions for life only in a narrow twilight zone between a fiercely hot surface and a frozen dark side. He explains the children’s green coloration as a side effect of consuming the genetically modified alien plants eaten by the planet’s inhabitants.

Lunan was not the first to state that the green children may have been extraterrestrials. Robert Burton suggested in his 1621 The Anatomy of Melancholy that the green children “fell from Heaven”, an idea that seems to have been picked up by Francis Godwin, historian and Bishop of Hereford, in his hypothetical fiction The Man in the Moone, published posthumously in 1638.


The Green Children of Woolpit tale still influences the minds of writers, poets, plays and operas across the globe. Truth or Fiction? Did the children arrive from caverns deep within our earth? Did they come from Outer-space? Maybe somewhere the truth is in the middle. What do you think?




Sources & References:

  • Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Steve (2000), “Green Children”, A Dictionary of English Folklore (online ed.), Oxford University Press
  • Harris, Paul (1998), “The Green Children of Woolpit: A 12th Century Mystery and its Possible Solution”, in Moore, Steve, Fortean Studies: No. 4, John Brown Publishing, pp. 81–95, ISBN 978-1-870870-96-2
  • All Illustrations of The Green Children of Woolpit found in Public Domain
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