Doris Degaute


I recently interviewed Doris Degaute (b1923) who is the retired head teacher of Wilbury Infant and nursery school She has led an interesting life with most of it based in Palmers Green and Southgate. Doris also has some very interesting family connections. Her uncle on her mother’s side was Jack Trewin a very well known theatrical critic and his son Ion Trewin was also involved with the theatre and a well known writer.

Doris’ father, Percy Emerson Rendell, was in the Navy during the First World War and whilst based in Plymouth met her mother and they married there in 1919.Doris4

Her maternal grandfather Captain Trewin remembered going to sea as a 14 year old cabin boy and being ice bound in the St Lawrence River, which he found extremely, frightening.Doris3

Percy, although a qualified musician had worked in the city before the War but decided to work as a musician afterwards and was lucky enough to find a job with the D’Oyly Carte Opera company. The family then moved into what was then known as 31 Old Park Villas and as you can see this looked like a lovely family house.Doris1

Their address changed however, when it was decided that Green Lanes would come into being and the house then became 210 Green Lanes. Percy was involved with several amateur opera companies as well as the D’Oyly Carte and then decided to leave the D’Oyly Carte and work as a professional with amateur companies. Something which is easily forgotten, is that in the years before television, during the 20s and 30s, there were huge numbers of these companies and they often employed a professional choir master or director. Doris remembers her father working away from home most weeks and being put on a train in the care of a guard, with her sister and brother and travelling to attend the last night of most productions and the after show party. She also remembers being very well looked after by her father’s landladies and being much admired by the singers and actors at these late night parties, with her father being the life and sole of the party. Unfortunately as soon as WW11 started all of these activities ceased and her father died in 1941 aged only 57. The family then found that they no longer owned their house as her father had sold it to help his brother.

The musical thread lived on in the Rendell family as Doris’ brother is Don Rendell a very well known Jazz musician who currently lives in Edmonton.

The house was eventually bought by the council and turned into flats and fortunately her mother was able to live in one until she died.

Doris went to Southgate County and joined civil service at 16 then about 2 years into the war the government said as there was a shortage of men in certain professions everyone available would be given one of three choices, the land army, hospital domestic work and working on the buses. This disappointed lots of Doris’ colleagues who had been hoping to join the more glamorous services, such as the ATS or the Wrens. Doris chose the buses, as she would be based in Wood Green. Unfortunately she is rather short and there were no uniforms for short people, so hers drowned her and also bus conductors had to hook the trolley bus leads over a new set of wires when they turned a corner using a long pole and Doris couldn’t reach the wires and on one occasion she was trying, unsuccessfully, to sort out a lot of school children with tickets and change and a bus inspector saw her. After 3 days she was sent back to the civil service and worked for the Crown Agents until then end of the war.

After work Doris would help with the WRVS and one evening she was asked to help a newly arrived Belgian soldier, Arthur Degaute who she later married. Arthur’s family had a fashion business in Casablanca and he had been interned when the German’s invaded. After being released by the Americans he volunteered for the army and arrived in Liverpool Street to help with the war effort.Doris6Doris and Arthur leaving 210 Green lanes after their wedding.

After the war Doris, now a new mother trained as a teacher but as Arthur found it tricky to get a job they went to Casablanca where Arthur could work in the family business. This lasted until the Moroccan king died and the new King no longer wanted to be a French Protectorate and all the French and European business people had to leave. Doris and Arthur returned to the UK, where Doris resumed her teaching career. Doris worked at the old St Paul’s primary school, before the new one was built in Station Road. She remembers it being so cramped that the children had to sit in rows and if anyone wanted to go to the toilet all the children on that row had to move. She also worked in Tottenhall and then moved to Wilbury Infants as deputy head, becoming head after a few years and remaining there until she retired. It was one of the first schools to have a purpose built nursery, a few schools were chosen by Enfield to have nurseries and Doris remembers going on a course to facilitate it’s development. The school is on the borders of Edmonton and Tottenham and parents from Tottenham were always trying to get their children into an Enfield School. During a recent hospital stay, Doris was greeted by several nurses and patients who remembered her with great affection.

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