Lady Katherine Ferrers
Lady Katherine Ferrers
"The Wicked lady of Margate"
There have been many reports of horses found in the fields surrounding the Markyate area in mornings, looking as though they had been ridden hard, tired and covered with foam. These horses were thought to have been ridden all night by Lady Katherine Ferrers who has now become known as 'The Wicked Lady'.
One late winters night in December 1970 the manager of the Wicked Lady Pub, Douglas Payne, was out walking his dog on Nomansland Common when he heard the sound of a horse galloping fast towards him. The terrifying reaction of his dog told him that he was not imaging anything. Mr Payne looked but could see nothing. The galloping horse passed so close he felt as though he could have reached out and touched it.
For several generations Markyate Cell had been the home of the Ferrers family. Around 1635 only Sir Knighton and his elderly father Sir George Ferrers remained. Fortunately or unfortunately Sir Knighton married the beautiful heiress Lady Katherine Walters of Hertingford but he died within the year not seeing his child that Lady Katherine was carrying. Sir George Ferrers died a few months later they were both buried at Flamstead. Lady Katherine gave birth to her daughter who she also named Katherine at Markyate Cell, soon after lady Katherine returned to her family's home in Hertingford with the young baby. A rich young widow during the time the country was in the grip of Civil war was not to remain a widow for long, especially as many of the King's supporters were hard driven to survive and desperate for money, she was persuaded to marry a strong Royalist supporter Sir Simon Fanshaw of Ware Park. Soon Sir Simon Fanshaw was on the run from Cromwell's men when Parliamentary forces overran Ware Park.
Lady Bethell at Hamerton in Huntingdonshire gave Lady Katherine and her small daughter refuge, the young Katherine was to remain with her mother there until she reached the age of twelve, which in those times was the legal age for a girl to marry. Sir Simon fanshawe wanted to gain control of the young Katherine's large estate and enlisted the help of a willing priest John Laycock to marry her to his sixteen year old son Thomas Fanshaw, Katherine's own stepbrother. The marriage was domed from the start as the young Thomas returned to the family estate in Ireland and Katherine remained with her mother and Lady Bethell until they both died. Aged eighteen the young Lady Katherine was alone and neglected by her husbands family decided to return to live alone back at her father's home at Markyate Cell. It was here that she met the farmer Ralph Chaplin also from Markyate whose land overlooked the busy thoroughfare of Watling Street.
It was not unusual for young men from good families to be highwaymen as a means of earning another income. Ralph Chaplin a dashing young fellow, farmer by day and notorious highwayman at night he must have made a very big impression on the lonely, yet adventurers Katherine. Soon Katherine was enjoying the thrills of being a highwaywoman.
Katherine hid her highway disguise in a secret room in Markyate Cell; built into the kitchen chimney was a concealed staircase leading up to the room, and a secret passageway that led from her bedroom to the stables. By day Lady Katherine was the young beautiful lady of the manor but as night fell she wore her highway disguise and become the merciless highwaywomen who would stop at nothing, not even murder to get her demands. She was said to hide in the trees and jump down upon her unexpected victims.
It's not known how long or often Lady Katherine and Ralph Chaplin preyed on travellers around Markyate, but soon while out robbing a baggage wagon on Finchley Common North London Ralph Chaplin was shot dead. At night overcome with grief and anger, Katherine terrorised the people of Markyate. She burnt down homes while the occupants slept, Murdered the constable of Caddington on his own doorstep as he answered a summons, farm animals were found slaughtered, the people and travelers in Markyate feared for their life's. No- one would have thought that a beautiful rich young woman could do all this.
A wagon full of supplies was heading for the Inn at Guster Wood near Wheathampstead, along the way the driver picked up two men in need of a lift, they climbed into the wagon and sat amongst the bales and baggage. Dusk was falling as they were passing through Nomansland Common where Lady Katherine lay waiting ready for ambush amongst the trees, she suddenly appeared and shot dead the driver without warning, Katherine still unaware of the passengers among the supplies and was fatally wounded when he shot her, Katherine fled ridding at full speed back to her home but died by the entrance to her secret door.
Her appearance and her black horse found roaming in the grounds identified her as the highwayman of Markyate. Lady Katherine's body was taken secretly at night to the Church of St. Mary's in Ware but was not laid to rest in the Fanshawe's family vault. The door to her secret hide away was bricked up for more than a hundred years, when in 1840 part of the house was destroyed by fire, thought to have been caused by the ghost of Katherine. None of the local workmen would work there, so workmen called in from London opened the entrance and broke down the oak door (later they found a hidden spring which would have easily opened the door) they were disappointed not to find anything but dust and cobwebs, they were hoping to find the ill gotten treasure that was reported to have been hidden in the grounds. There has been no report of the treasure being found, but there is a little rhyme.
the cell there is a Well
Near the well there is a Tree
And under the Tree the Treasure be'
Markyate wasn't t free of Katherine for long, Her ghost has been seen riding like hell through Watling street and galloping as far as Kimpton and swinging in the trees at the grounds of Markyate Cell. Mr Ady who lived there in 1894 repeatedly saw Lady Katherine's ghost on the stairs and wished her good night. Once, seeing her with her arms stretched out in the doorway, called to his wife who was outside "now we've caught her!" and they rushed upon her from both sides, but caught nothing. When Markyate bypass was being made in 1957 a workman found himself warming his hands with a young man with long dark hair, slim in build wearing a dark knee length cloak with ornate clasps and long leather boots, the young man promptly disappeared. In 1912 a night watchman gave the same description again when the council were extending the sewer from the High Street to Hicks Road.