The Importance of Being Ernest
The 1973 Yearbook relates an event in 1910 when Pastor Russell visited the town of Otley, in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. Apparently, as a result of reading Russell’s Plan of the Ages, three Methodist lay ministers left the church and started a Bible Study group which by 1910 had grown to a class of about 40 persons. But who were these three ministers?
The 1910 Convention Souvenir relates the same event with more detail, informing us that the event occurred some years earlier and giving us the names of two of the three: a Brother Ted Smith and a Brother Waterhouse, who had become elders of the Otley Ecclesia by 1910. But when precisely did the event take place? The Leeds Mercury for 6 March 1906, carried an article entitled Millennial Dawn – A New Sect in Wharfedale – Some of its Strange Tenets. It explained that:
The religious beliefs of a band of Otley people have just attracted attention from the fact that three of their number, who were at one time prominent local preachers on the Primitive Methodist plan, have rendered their resignations, and these have been accepted by the district meeting.
Apparently therefore, the event had occurred early in 1906, but who was the third man?
Recently the writer stumbled across the war record of an IBSA conscientious objector in World War One who had been placed in the 6th Northern Company of the Non Combatant Corps. Like many a Bible Student, the man was refused total exemption at his Military Service Tribunal but was given exemption from combatant service only. Thereafter he refused to follow orders and received court martial before being sent to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Eventually he took what was considered ‘work of national importance’ working under the Home Office Scheme at the Princetown Work Centre, the former Dartmoor Prison.
The surviving WO 363 (Burnt record) for this man suggests that he was first called up on 24/06/1916 but that a delay resulted in him not being put into the Non Combatant Corps until March 1917. It states his name was Ernest Yeoman Renton, aged 33, and his home address was Holme View, Arthington, Yorkshire. His religion is stated as ‘Bible Students Association’ and his occupation as ‘Lay Evangelist - Bible Students' Association.’ But what would account for the delay? At this time the War Office had consented to cancel the papers of elders who had been called to the army, pending the decision of a case referred to the High Court. The case was decided in February 1917 but sadly failed to establish the exemption of IBSA elders as ministers of religion. As a result, Ernest Yeoman Renton, an elder in the nearby Otley Ecclesia, was expected to take his place in the Non Combatant Corps in March 1917.
The fact that Arthington is a small village close by Otley is unremarkable by itself. However it just so happens, that Ernest Yeoman Renton wrote a letter to Edmund Harvey, a Quaker MP sympathetic to conscientious objectors, in late 1916, which can be seen in the Friends House Library, London. In convincing Harvey of the genuineness of his position, Renton mentions that “these Christian principles have governed my life for the past ten years.” If Renton took to Bible Student teachings some 10 years previous to 1916, this places him precisely at the time of the incident in question.
A search of Ancestry details for Ernest Yeoman Renton shows him living at Arthington during the 1911 census. It is also apparent that he married a 36 year old named … wait for it … Lucy Waterhouse. The event took place in Morecambe, Lancashire on 17 May 1916. The reader may not be surprised to learn that Lucy Waterhouse had formerly lived in Otley (according to the 1911 census) with her family. She was the daughter of John George Waterhouse, a Master Baker, and appears to have worked as a shop assistant for him.
We cannot be 100% sure, of course, but it seems extremely likely that the three Primitive Methodist lay ministers of 1906 that became Bible Students therefore were:
Ernest Yeoman Renton
John George Waterhouse
P.S. As an aside, it also seems likely that Leonard Renton of nearby Leeds, who was a member of the Richmond 16 and became one of the eight Bible Student conscientious objectors to have faced the infamous ‘death sentence’ episode, was in some way related to Ernest Yeoman Renton.