Born at Illingworth, Halifax on 1 March 1846, he began work as a weaver before serving in the MNC ministry from 1873 to 1880. He attended Ranmoor College part-time when in the Sheffield Circuit, 1873-1875, but resigned from the Connexion in 1880 to become a Congregationalist. His pastorates included the prestigious (but by then declining) Cavendish Congregational, Manchester, 1897- 1904, and then Hare Court Congregational, Canonbury, London until his resignation from the ministry in 1908.
A radical Liberal who briefly flirted with the Independent Labour Party, in the first general election of 1910 he was elected as the Liberal member for Colne Valley. Although a lifelong pacifist, on the outbreak of war in 1914 he unsuccessfully volunteered to become a Nonconformist chaplain at the front, but was appointed Officiating Minister to the Baptist and Congregational Soldiers in the London General Hospitals. His behaviour became increasingly eccentric and he probably had a nervous breakdown. As a result, in 1916 the Speaker used his powers under the Lunacy (Vacation of Seats) Act, 1886 to disqualify him from the House of Commons, the first occasion this legislation had been used.
A substantial writer, his works included Sunday Afternoon Half-hour Lectures to Working Men (1875) and How I reached the Masses (1887), both based on his ministry in Birmingham; Christian aspects of the Labour Movement; a novel, Bethesda Chapel (1904), and the jubilee history of Cavendish Congregational (1898). He held an honorary doctorate from Ohio University. He died on 24 November 1919 in London and is buried in the family grave at Bethesda MNC, Elland.