Babes in the Wood

This ghost story is outside our geographical area but we thought it was worth including because of its historical interest.  The ghosts of children, whose young lives have been cut short, are considered to be the saddest kind of haunting.

Unfortunately in olden times people did not care for their children as we do today.  It was not unusual to sacrifice a child to ensure the protection of the gods or to ward off evil spirits.  Small skeletons have often been found in ancient walls as evidence of pagan practices of long ago.  Relatives of the ‘unwanted’ could also be equally cruel to children in their charge, as is demonstrated by the well-known legend Babes in the Wood.

According to tradition and folklore this tale was based on two Norfolk children whose cruel uncle decided to do away with them.  The setting is Wayland Wood or as it is known by its old name ‘Wailing Wood’. The Babes in the Wood is an old English ballad first published in Norwich by Thomas Millington in 1595.

It tells the story of two children whose parents die and who are placed in the care of their father's brother.  The little boy is aged about three and the little girl even younger.  Under the terms of their fathers will they are to inherit their father's estate when they reach their majority.  However, if they die before this time, then the monies and estate are to go to their uncle. 

So the uncle decides to do away with the two children and pays two cut-throats to take the two children into Wayland Wood and murder them.  But the children’s innocence and purity touches the hardened criminals and they cannot bring themselves to kill them. 

So instead they abandoned them in the woods. Unfortunately the two children never find their way out of the woods and die of exposure and starvation.    

In Wayland Wood there used to be a huge oak, which was said to be the place where the babes actually died, however, in 1879 the tree was struck and destroyed by lightning.  It is also believed that nearby Griston Hall, an ancient manor house, was the home of the wicked uncle.

Nowadays the tale goes that if you are in the ‘wailing’ woods after dusk you can sometimes hear the sound of children crying and sobbing.  Also it's been reported that two little ghostly figures are sometimes seen wandering hand-in-hand through the trees desperately trying to find a way back home. The village sign of Griston and also of Watton depicts the Babes in the Wood.