Strange Lights, Green Children and Scarlet Men

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The village of Woolpit is located in the county of Suffolk, to the east of Bury St Edmunds. At some point in the mid-12th Century, during harvest time, the villagers of Woolpit discovered two children out in the fields. Dressed in unfamiliar clothing, speaking in a strange tongue, and with a curious green hue to their skin, the boy and girl caused quite a stir locally.

Local legend records that the two emerald children were a boy and a girl; brother and sister, no less. They were taken to the local landowner, where the pair refused all food served to them until they stumbled across a plate of raw broad beans.

The aforementioned beans did not last long.

After some time, the children learnt to speak English, explaining that they came from a place without a sun, bathed in perpetual twilight: a place they called St Martin’s Land, where everything was green. The children had been herding their father’s cattle when they suddenly heard a loud and unfamiliar sound, possibly the sounds of the church bells at nearby Bury St Edmunds, and then the pair found themselves in the fields of Woolpit.

The children eventually lost their verdant hue and settled in the area, working in the household of the landowner.

There are no further reports of visitors from St Martin’s Land.

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It is widely accepted that this famous story is either descended from much older local folklore, or is a rather confused and muddled account of a real event of which the actual history has been lost.

Ufologists, however, are quick to point that this story is one of the earliest encounters of ‘little green men’.

I must confess, UFOs and extra-terrestrial beings are not my particular field of interest. However, a similar event was recently brought to my attention, an event that happened as the nineteenth century transitioned into the twentieth, and took place not too far from my current location.

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The Park Estate is a privately owned residential housing estate just to the west of Nottingham City Centre. Many of the houses are spacious villas, built for wealthy locals from 1809 onwards, despite the objections of the ‘ordinary’ citizens of Nottingham, who regarded the area as belonging to the public.

The area is laid out in the Victorian style, a network of wide streets lit by a network of gas powered lamps.

A copy of the Nottingham Daily Journal, dated Tuesday the 3rd of July 1900, carried a curious account of strange lights seen over the Park Estate the previous weekend. These lights were said to have hovered over the Park Tunnel (a wide walkway carved into a sandstone hill, allowing access to the city centre), before dropping down and vanishing into the earth. Four witnesses testified to this. Apparently this event lasted for several hours, and then repeated itself the next night.

But it seems this aerial display of luminescence was just an overture to something far more bizarre.

The following is a police report from two days later, written by a Constable DB Johnson (I have edited the language of this a little to update some of the more archaic terminology):

‘Having finished my rounds of the Estate for the evening, I was walking toward the tunnel back to the city. I was assailed by a bright flash of light and a smell I had never encountered before. Fearing that the lamp at the far end had ‘popped’ I entered the tunnel. Much to my surprise, I found a large and ruddy character lying upon the floor. He appeared to be completely in the nude.

‘Having encountered intoxicated men in the tunnel before, I gave the fellow a swift kick on the behind and ordered him to move on.

‘He muttered something at me, a word I didn’t understand. It was then I noticed that the man was besmeared from head to foot in a thick, reddish liquid. He also appeared completely devoid of hair, on both his head and body.

‘He began to babble something at me. Fearing he had injured himself, I blew my whistle vigorously to summon help.’

Several more constables arrived on the scene and together they attempted to take this large, naked yet hairless man to the local station. He initially resisted, but was eventually subdued.

The constables noted that whilst this man did speak, it was in a language that they could not understand.

The man was duly taken to the station and incarcerated for the rest of the night.

In the morning, the duty sergeant unlocked the man’s cell to check on him, hoping their guest was now in a position to explain himself.

The man was gone. All that remained in the cell to show he was ever there was a large patch of a thick, red liquid on the floor and the lingering smell of ozone in the air.

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All this was brought to my attention by a student at Nottingham University studying local history. She stumbled across the police report and then sought out local newspaper accounts from that period, hoping to glean some further information. The above excerpt was all she could find.

A thorough search of the Psychical Research and Investigation Society’s extensive archives details no further accounts of any other paranormal events taking place in or around the area of the Park Tunnel.

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So who was this large, scarlet man who appeared for six or so hours on that strange July night? Where did he come from? How did he escape the locked cell? And, perhaps more importantly, where did he go? Unfortunately, everyone involved in this particular event is long dead, so the only evidence available is what I have presented above.

Perhaps all this was no more than a misremembered encounter with a drunk. Perhaps the nocturnal lights were just coincidental examples of a little understood phenomenon know as ball lightning.

But coincidence is often a message that has yet to reveal itself. Indeed, this is not my first brush with individuals slipping in and out of reality. Those cases, too, were preceded by strange lights in the sky.

One wonders if there were similar airbourne shimmers in the area of Woolpit just before the appearance of the green-tinged pair in the mid-12th century. Alas, I fear that question will remain unanswered.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

I’ve found another entry where the good doctor discusses ball lightning, and further information on the green children of Woolpit can be found here – C.R.