East Anglia, Land of the Iceni Names & Legends

Babes in the Wood

Babes in the Wood

This legend, of which there are countless variations around the world and has been adapted as a folk song & pantomime story, originated in Norfolk.

First published in Norwich in 1595, the ballad tells the tale of an orphaned brother and sister who were left in the care of their uncle. The uncle then paid two villains to take the children into the nearby wood and murder them so he could get his hands on their inheritance. One of the villains wanted to save the children, and when the other refused he killed him.
Leaving the children in the wood, he promised to return with food, but never did, and the children eventually starved to death in each others arms.

The folk song is a shortened version of the story...

Oh, don't you remember, a long time ago
Those two little babes, their names I don't know
They strayed far away one bright summer's day
These two little babies got lost on their way

Pretty babes in the wood
Pretty babes in the wood
Oh, don't you remember
Those babes in the wood

Now the day being long and the night coming on
These two little babies sat under a stone
They sobbed and they sighed, they sat down and cried
These two little babies they laid down and died


Now the robins so red, so swiftly they sped
They put out their wide wings and over them spread
And all the day long on the branches did throng
They sweetly did carol and this was their song


Watton town signThere were wood carvings at Griston Hall near Watton that depicted the story. There is also documentary evidence to suggest that the story is based vaguely on incidents that occured at the hall around 1560 concerning Thomas de Grey. Thomas was 7 years old when he inherited the estate. He had an uncle, Robert de Grey, who would succeed to the estate if Thomas died childless. Thomas died in mysterious circumstances when he was 11.
The villagers were convinced he had been been killed by Robert, and the story spread....

Nearby is an ancient wood called Wayland Wood, which has become known as Wailing Wood. The town sign for Watton shows two children under a tree, and the Griston village sign is a carving of the hall with the uncle and the two children.

Names Index Original Ballad

Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 08 November 2004


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