The education of Miss Phillips

A few years ago, with Dr Tori Herridge, I wrote a Trowelblazers article about the marvellous Anne Phillips. As Anne’s Wikipedia page makes clear, geologist and science historian Dr Nina Morgan has been crucial in uncovering many details of Miss Phillips’ life and work, including important contributions to geological science. I very much enjoyed Nina’s recent article explaining how rail travel influenced Anne’s fieldwork with her brother John.

The grave of Anne (and John) Phillips in York Cemetery (Photograph: Liam Herringshaw).

Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in York’s hidden history, and Anne’s history is definitely hidden, not least her education. I may, however, have made a small discovery, following up on a comment made by Nina in her 2007 paper on Anne’s geological research:

“For reasons not clear, Anne was living with Monsieur and Madam Goussaerts in Chateau Kockelberg near Brussels in 1829” (Morgan 2007, p. 267)

1829 was the year Anne moved to York, to live with John, who had become the first Keeper of Geology at the Yorkshire Museum. Nina explains that John went to Brussels to meet Anne and invite her back to Britain.

I was curious if anything could be unearthed online about the Chateau Kockelberg, and was quickly directed to the Oxford Companion to the Brontes, which had this to say:

“The so‐called Château de Kœkelberg was a finishing school primarily for English pupils, kept by Mme Catherine Goussaert, née Phelps, at 123 Chaussée de Jette, west of Brussels.”

A blog about the Brontes in Brussels – in the early 1840s, more than a decade after Anne left – even had this image of the chateau:

The Chateau de Koekelberg, Brussels.

A Bronte Encyclopaedia adds further detail. The chateau was an ‘expensive’ finishing school, apparently, and – before marriage – Madame Goussaert was Catherine Phelps, from Devon. Anne and John were from Wiltshire – could there be a south-west English connection between Miss Phillips and Miss Phelps?

In 1829, Anne would have been 25 or 26, so she can’t have been a pupil at the school. She must have been employed at the chateau in some capacity. Was she a governess? I don’t know, but the circumstantial evidence certainly provides grist to the mill of Wikipedia‘s “strong suggestion that Anne…was very well educated.”

Hopefully, as her brother’s former employers celebrate their bicentenary year with an array of educational events, we’ll find out more about Anne’s own.


Earth scientist in North Yorkshire, fossilist on the Cote de Saur. Director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering and facebooking as @fossiliam.