The son of a Tunstall potter, he was born at Burslem on 12 March 1780. After some years of what he later considered dissipation, he was converted at a prayer meeting on 20 January 1805. He then spent some time distributing Bibles and tracts and became a WM class leader. He attended the camp meeting on Mow Cop on May 31, 1807. He preached during the second camp meeting and was placed on the Burslem WM plan in 1808 as a preacher on trial. On the grounds of his irregular evangelical activities, he was dropped from the preachers' plan and expelled from WM membership in 1810, but continued to preach. He and his followers joined forces with those of Hugh Bourne and James Steele, and his name appeared as preacher no. 5 on the hand-written preaching plan for Tunstall in 1811. James Nixon and Thomas Woodnorth gave him financial support, enabling him to extend his travels into nearby counties, establishing many societies. In 1819 he reached Hull and in six months had raised a society of 300 members. Hull became the centre from which he extended his travels as far afield as London and Cornwall, until his retirement in 1842 - and beyond. His name is linked with that of Bourne as a founder of the PM Connexion and he was President of the Conference for three successive years, 1844-1846.
Part of the tension between him and Bourne was due to the fact that, unlike Bourne, he was a powerful and persuasive preacher. He had lived a wild and dissipated life before his conversion, but thereafter revealed a gentle and generous character. A more traditional Methodist than Bourne, he contributed significantly to the rapid growth of the PM movement by his success as an evangelist. He died in Hull on 2 March 1851. The chapel then being built in Jarratt Street, Hull, and opened in January 1852, was named Clowes Memorial Chapel.