The former home of a medieval female highwayman will go under the hammer at auction tomorrow.
There is rather a lot of folklore surrounding the life of Lady Katherine Ferrers and two films have been made about her.
The first, starring Margaret Lockwood, came out in 1945 and the second, starring Faye Dunaway, hit the big screens in 1983.
They are both named The Wicked Lady after what many believe was her criminal alter-ego. She is believed to have held up travellers in coaches across Herts after hitting hard times financially. What’s more, there is even bearing the name in St Albans. And it is in the middle of Nomansland Common.
The area got that name because of the high number of travellers robbed in the area in the 17th century.
Apart from robbery, a catalogue of mayhem in the area was later attributed to Katherine that included burning houses, slaughtering livestock and killing a police officer.
It is also believed to be where she was shot during a bungled robbery on June 13, 1660, aged just 26.
Her body was supposedly discovered wearing men’s clothes as she tried to ride back to the mansion where she lived, Markyate Cell.
A secret chamber was discovered by workmen at the Gade II-listed mansion in the 1800s behind a false wall next to a chimney stack.
Markyate Cell had been on the market for £4 million under agents Strutt & Parker – but then an offer of £4.25 million was received.
Now to ensure it gets the best possible price the property mansion will be auctioned off by Allsop at The Cumberland Hotel, London, tomorrow. Set in 79 acres of land, the Grade II-listed manor house – which can be seen clearly from the A5 – has 11 bedrooms.
There is also a three-bedroom North Lodge and a two-bedroom South Lodge within the grounds.
Markyate Cell is rumoured to have once been considered by David and Victoria Beckham when they were searching for a family pad.
But it is not known who the potential buyers are this time.
Markyate Cell was built on the site of a 12th century Benedictine Priory and takes its name from a cell, or smaller structure, that served the monastery. It was converted at great expense into a manor house in 1540, and then rebuilt in 1908 after a fire.
The property was one of several in Hertfordshire given to the Ferrer family by King Edward VI. They included extensive homes in Bayford, Ponsbourne, Markyate Cell and, within walking distance, their family mansion in Flamstead, Agnells.
As fervent Protestants, they were great favourites of the King Edward VI and his predecessor King Henry VIII.
But Katherine hit hard times after her father Knighton died in 1640 and her grandfather Sir George Ferrers, died soon after.
Katherine’s brother, who was the heir to the family fortunes, had died young, so by court decree in October 1640, she was appointed sole heir to her grandfather’s estates.
Her widowed mother married Sir Simon Fanshawe later that year.
The Fanshawes had contributed heavily to the Royalist cause during the English Civil War, later finding their assets greatly diminished.
The family arranged for orphaned Katherine, heir to the Ferrers estates, to marry Thomas Fanshawe, then 16 and her stepfather’s nephew, at just 13.
Many of her inherited assets were quickly disposed of.
According to the popular legend, Katherine came into highway robbery with her accomplice and purported lover, Ralph Chaplin, in her husband’s absence in order to redress her fast-dwindling fortune.
During this time many highwaymen were Royalist supporters bereft of home, estates or income.