Born in Driffield and brought up as a Wesleyan, he later moved to Wakefield and in 1826 became a partner in his father's spirits and malting business. He gave up this position when he became a teetotaler in 1837. A Sunday School teacher who was always ready to assist educational and charitable causes, he became prominent in civic affairs from 1830, exhibiting a combative personality of which the chief targets were the Church of Erngland and the Conservative Party. Among his achievements were the abolition of unfair processes of local legislation ('the soke'), reduction in the price of town gas, and Wakefield's first police force. He actively supported the principles of a free press, freedom of conscience and discussion, anti-slavery and international peace. In 1848 he became the town's first elected mayor. In 1849 he joined the Wesleyan Reformers.