Born at Peatling Magna, Leics, son of a doctor who died in the diphtheria epidemic he was treating during the early 1880s. He won a scholarship to Rydal School, and London University. He trained for the Wesleyan ministry at Richmond College, London, returning there in 1920 as its first tutor in philosophy after circuit work in Chichester and South London. He was appointed Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at London University in 1931 and served as principal of Richmond College from 1940 until his retirement in 1951. In 1928 he had been made Representative on the Faculty of Theology at the University of London, with a place on the university Senate. He became Chairman of the Board of Studies in Theology in 1932 and served as the university’s deputy vice-chancellor during 1936-37.
These posts, forging close links between college and faculty, meant - as the Methodist Recorder pointed out in his obituary - that “Richmond has never stood higher in an academic sense than during his association with it”. But his role as an educator stretched much further than college curricula. Embracing both philosophy and psychology, which he spoke and wrote about from a religious perspective but with eyes wide open to society, Eric Waterhouse unpicked twentieth-century myth and mystery in a way understandable to the average reader.
Although a man of strong personal opinions he sought intellectual balance in a steady flow of publications beginning with The Psychology of the Christian Life in 1913, when a circuit minister at Hither Green. He was not so much a creative thinker as a populariser in the best sense, making complex issues available to all who cared to read or listen.
He was an early broadcaster. A series of BBC Sunday evening talks, transmitted from Daventry and London in the late 1920s and early 1930s, increased by popular demand. His 1930 book, Psychology & Religion, was derived from the first series. It was published, he wrote in the preface, because listeners’ letters had convinced him that “many wished to be able to return to the subject through the medium of print.” He dedicated the book “To Those who did not ‘SWITCH OFF’”. Invited in the early 1940s to take part in the BBC’s Brains Trust programme, he enjoyed tangling with C.E.M.Joad.
Waterhouse’s books include Modern Theories of Religion, Everyman and Christianity, The Psychology of the Christian Life, The Philosophy of the Religious Experience, The Dawn of Religion - and An ABC of Psychology, written for Sunday-school teachers when Sunday schools still played an important role in children’s education. He also gave sessions of 24 lectures entitled The Psychology of Religion to extension courses in the London University extra-mural studies department, where he encouraged discussion around topics like “Personality and Character” or “The Occult and the Faith”. His most complete statement, The Philosophical Approach to Religion, published in 1933 with new editions in 1938 and 1960, assumed a readership which, although “unversed in philosophy”, could move step-by-step with him through subject matter like, to take the chapter entitled “The Idea of The Universe”, Theistic Conceptions – Dualism – Philosophical Dualism - Monism – Monism and Religion – Pluralism – Materialism – Realism and Idealism.
In everyday life Dr Waterhouse was the antithesis of isms. His love of steam traction went right back to his attempt, aged 16, to become an apprentice engineer at the Great Western Railway’s Swindon works. It seems that, much against his mother’s wishes, he sat the exam and would have been accepted but for being deemed too young. The ministry followed. However, he frequently made it to the footplate on preaching excursions around Britain, writing a regular column for the ASLEF Journal. He was a vocal opponent of the diesel engine and of Dr Beeching’s cuts to the 1950s railway network.
Childhood in rural Leicestershire bred a knowledge of country matters. Among his duties as a governor of Queenswood School in Hertfordshire was financial oversight of the school’s pig farm. He enjoyed good relations with the farmer and his wife, Mr & Mrs Morgan, Welsh-speaking chapel goers. One Sunday morning after preaching at Queenswood, accompanied by a grandson, he stopped off in his dog collar to chat with Mrs Morgan. “And I’ll take a dozen new-laid eggs home with me, please”. “Oh no, Reverend, not on a Sunday”.
Eric Waterhouse preached his final sermon in Hayfield, Derbyshire, fulfilling an annual commitment to take the Sunday School Anniversary service there. His ancestors came from New Mills and Hayfield. Aged 84 and with a miserable cold, he had travelled by train from Epsom via Penrhos School, Colwyn Bay, where he attended a governors’ meeting on the Friday. He died at Epsom few weeks later, on April 11 1964.
Dr Waterhouse married a daughter of William D.WaltersWalters family. Their son, John W.Waterhouse, was Principal of the National Children’s Home.