I popped down to the local library a couple of days ago for a look around, and to borrow their Internet to buy Mim’s Christmas presents. It’s not huge, but it’s certainly larger than Cowra’s; once the remaindered sportsmen’s’ biographies are taken out of the latter, the its non-fiction selection is probably smaller than my own. In general, Young’s collection is much newer, too.

I picked up a book of proverbs from around the world, a copy of Ramsay Campbell’s eldritch horror classic Cold Print, and Katharine Briggs’ British Folktales. Whilst nowhere near as comprehensive as Westwood and Simpson’s Lore of the Land, British Folktales is merely a sampler for Briggs’ magnum opus, the Dictionary of British Folk-Tales, which weighs in at four volumes and 2500+ pages.

(Incidentally, if anyone out there’s feeling really generous…)

Of course, I had to navigate immediately to a couple of favourite tales, such as Croglin Grange and the Green Children of Woolpit. British Folktales (via a series of sources) quotes Ralph of Coggeshall directly on the latter:

Another wonderful thing happened in Suffolk, at St Mary’s of the Wolf-pits.  A boy and his sister were found by the inhabitants of that place near the mouth of a pit which is there, who had the form of all their limbs like to those of other men, but they differed in the colour of their skin from all the people of our habitable world; for the whole surface of their skin was tinged of a green colour.  No one could understand their speech.  When they were brought as curiosities to the house of a certain knight, Sir Richard de Caine [sic], at Wikes, they wept bitterly.  Bread and other victuals were set before them, but they would touch none of them, though they were tormented by great hunger, as the girl afterwards acknowledged.  At length, when some beans, just cut, with their stalks were brought into the house, they made signs, with great avidity, that they should be given to them.  When they were brought, they opened the stalks instead of the pods, thinking the beans were in the hollow of them; but, not finding them there, they began to weep anew.  When those that were present saw this, they opened the pods, and showed them the naked beans.  They fed on these with great delight, and for a long time tasted no other food.  The boy however was always languid and depressed, and he died within a short time.  The girl enjoyed continual good health, and, becoming accustomed to various kinds of food, lost completely that green colour, and gradually recovered the sanguine habit of her entire body.  She was afterwards regenerated by the laver of holy baptism, and lived for many years in the service of that knight (as I have frequently heard from him and his family), and was rather loose and wanton in her conduct.  Being frequently asked about the people of her country, she asserted that the inhabitants, and all that they had in that country, were of a green colour; and that they saw no sun, but enjoyed a degree of light like what is after sunset.  Being asked how she came into this country with the aforesaid boy, she replied, that as they were following their flocks they came to a certain cavern, on entering which they heard a delightful sound of bells; ravished by whose sweetness, they went for a long time wandering on through the cavern, until they came to its mouth.  When they came out of it, they were struck senseless by the excessive light of the sun, and the unusual temperature of the air; and they thus lay for a long time.  Being terrified of the noise of those who came on them, they wished to fly, but they could not find the entrance of the cavern before they were caught.

Briggs also comments:

This story is also told by William of Newbridge, who places it in the reign of King Stephen. He says he long hesitated to believe it, but he was at length overcome by the weight of evidence. According to him, the place where the children appeared was about four to five miles from Bury St Edmunds. They came in harvest-time out of the wolf-pits; they both lost their green hue, and were baptised and learned English. The boy, who was the younger, died; but the girl married a man at Lenna, and lived many years. They said their country was called St Martin’s Land, as that saint was chiefly worshipped there; that the people were Christians, and had churches; that the sun did not rise there, but that there was a bright country which could be seen from theirs, being divided from it by a very broad river. This is one of those curiously convincing and realistic fairy anecdotes which are occasionally to be found in the mediaeval chronicles.

William of Newbridge is better known as William of Newburgh or Newbury, and although some would place Lenna in Suffolk, no town of that name seems to currently exist there. However, King’s Lynn in Norfolk—by at least one tradition, the girl’s post-marital home—has variously been known as Lun or Lenn (in the Domesday Book), Len Episcopi (when ruled by the Bishop of Norwich) and Lenne Regis (when Henry VIII took possession of the town and its surrounds in 1537).

I wouldn’t mind trying to track down Newburgh’s version of the tale.

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