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1001 Stories Collection

The Green Children of Woolpit

1001 thegreenchildren
Added on 31st July 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from England

A haunting old English tale of two mysterious green skinned children.

Story

One day, in the twelfth century, two children appear outside the village of Woolpit in Suffolk. The brother and sister speak a strange language, refuse to eat anything other than raw broad beans and, strangest of all, have green skin. They are taken into the house of Richard de Calne and baptised, but where they came from is a mystery.

Why we chose it

The Green Children of Woolpit is a haunting story about what it is to be an outsider. Author Kevin Crossley Holland has retold it many times since hearing it as a child and says that it is a story that has haunted him all his life.

Where it came from

The village of Woolpit is in Suffolk, East Anglia. This story was recorded with slightly different details by two men, William of Newburgh (1189) a historian and canon, and Ralph of Coggestall (1220), the abbot of a Cistercian monastery. People still debate whether there is a historical explanation for this event, such as ‘chlorosis’ (green sickness) or whether it is purely a legend.

Where it went next

The speculation around this story inspired many pieces of art, such as Bishop Francis Godwin’s book The Man in the Moone (1638) and Herbert Read’s only novel, The Green Child (1934). A picture book written by Kevin Crossley Holland and illustrated by Alan Marks was published in 1997. Crossley Holland includes the story in a number of his collections of folk tales, including the most recent Between Worlds. In 1990 He also wrote the libretto for a community opera, with composer Nicola LeFanu.

Associated stories

Another story recorded by Ralph Coggestall is that of The Wildman, a merman caught by fishermen in Orford, Suffolk. It is also included in Between Worlds by Kevin Crossley Holland.

Added on 31st July 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from England