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Watton

Watton is a market town lying in the Brecklands in south-east Norfolk. The name derives from Wada's enclosure - as in 'Wada' + 'tun'.

The town is famous for its connection with the legend of The Babes in the Wood and the two children are depicted on the town sign.

Watton Town Sign

Watton town sign

The legend concerns the family of Edmund de Grey who lived at nearby Griston Hall. Edmund and his wife had two children named Jane and Thomas and they were a happy and honourable family. Unfortunately Edmund and Elizabeth became severely ill and eventually died. On his deathbed, Edmund entrusts the care of the children to his brother Robert. However, Robert is a disreputable man and he soon decides to kill the children in order to inherit the Hall. He subsequently hires two henchmen - who take the children into Wayland Wood. Here the two men have a disagreement over whether to kill the children or not and a fight breaks out. The man in favour of saving the children triumphs but he, nonetheless, decides to leave them in the wood - hoping that someone will find them. Unfortunately the children die of hunger and cold. Here is an extract from a ballad about the legend which was first published in Norwich in 1595 by Thomas Millington:
 

Thus wandered these poor innocents,
  Till death did end their grief,
In one another's armes they dyed,
  As wanting due relief:
No burial this pretty pair'
  Of any man receives
Till Robin-red breast piously
  Did cover them with leaves.

Read complete ballad


Wayland Wood still exists but is only a fragment of its original size. Locally the wood is known as 'Wailing Wood' - due to the terrible fate of the children. The word Wayland derives from the Old Norse Wanelund meaning a sacred grove.

Wayland Wood Sign

Wayland Wood this way

When a giant oak, reputed to have sheltered the children, was destroyed by lightning in 1879 people came from all over Norfolk to saw off souvenirs. The wood is also home to the yellow star-of-Bethlehem and, in his moving memoir Nature Cure, Richard Mabey visits the wood in search of this rare plant.

The Babes in the Wood has now become a popular pantomime.
 

 

 

 

 

 

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