Monday, 26 November 2012

Katherine Ferrers - "Wicked Lady" of Markyate?

Markyate is a village on the road between the old Roman posting stations of Verulamium (Snorbens) and Durocobrivae (Dunstable). Today it is bypassed by the A5, but the old High St is the former "Watling Street".

Being 30 miles out of London, on a main road, Markyate was something of a haunt for highwaymen. In particular, the Sun Inn has a plaque recalling that Dick Turpin was a regular there - although there have been rougher locals since, many known to the author of this blog. But most of all, Markyate was the home of the Wicked Lady, whose story is known to some from Hollywood.

The Markyate Cell was originally the home of an anchorite - Christina of Markyate. After the Reformation the Cell became private property and, eventually, the local squire's home. One squire in particular was such a boring beggar that his wife, Katherine Ferrers - took to being what I suppose we must call in these days a Highway-person.

She terrorised Watling Street, dressed in men's clothes, but was eventually shot in the course of a raid, and died outside the secret room where she kept the clothes of her alternative career.

Of course, when an attractive woman dies in violent circumstances in an isolated house in the fields a mile from a small village, it doesn't end there. Ever since Katherine's death, there have been rumours of her ghost - wandering through Cell Park, or swinging on the trees, calling for help.

In my own life-time, there was an attempt to knock down a wall in the Cell. The story, as related second-hand to me, was as follows:

"So they knocked the wall down. They heard a noise inside. And they bricked it back up, as fast as they could."

Old legends die hard.

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