‘The White Witch of Worcester: A Tale of the Barons’ Wars’ by James Skipp Borlase was serialised in the Worcester Chronicle around 1887. As enthusiasm for gothic folklore gained momentum in the late 19th century, Borlase adopted the historic account of Ursula Corbett of Defford who was burnt at the stake at the High Cross, which was thought to have stood in front of the Guildhall, in 1661 for poisoning her husband after three weeks of marriage.
This elaborate and compelling work of fiction brought Ursula’s story together with local legends of secret underground passages leading to the White Ladies convent at the Tything (dating from c.1240) which provided her with an escape route. The site of this nunnery is now the Royal Grammar School Worcester.
In rural areas of Worcestershire superstitions endured during the 19th century and a ‘white witch’ might particularly help with the recovery of lost goods, among other perceived skills. However witches were feared and pubs such as The Fleece in Bretforton still feature white ‘witch-marks’ around the fireplaces, said to trap witches that entered through the chimney.