The Babes In The Wood

The tale of the Babes In The Wood was first published as an anonymous broadside ballad, printed by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595. The two children are left in the care of an uncle who hands the children over to criminals to be killed while telling his wife they are being sent to London for their upbringing and education. However, the two criminals fight over whether they should kill the children. The one who doesn’t want to wins and kills the other. He then tells the children he will return with food but they never see him again. The children wander until they tire. When they lie down to sleep, they die but are covered with leaves by a robin or similar bird.

The roots of this story are likely far older than the first printing. It has a lot in common with the origins of the Green Children of Woolpit and Hansel and Gretel, along with other less well known stories. This is likely because the abandonment of children (or worse) was quite common during times of famine, civil strife and / or pandemics during the late medieval period if not throughout history. This particular story is unusual in that the children are not simply poor but orphans and heirs.

At some point, the tale became associated with Wayland Wood in Norfolk with nearby Griston Hall Farm reputed to be the home of the wicked uncle. Tradition holds that the ghosts of the murdered children haunt the woods and, when the oak tree that is said to have sheltered the children’s last sleep was struck by lightning in 1879, people came from all over the county for souvenirs. Coincidentally, that oak tree remains a strong Waypoint into the Otherworld.

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