Born on Broad Street, Birmingham, he became the head of a family firm of builders and contractors who were responsible for many public buildings in the town centre, including the Council House, the City Museum and Art Gallery, the General Hospital in Steelhouse Lane and the Hall of Memory in commemoration of the fallen in World War One. At the outbreak of war he acted as chief recruiting officer of the three Birmingham service battalions and later as a major commanded the1st Birmingham Battalion in the Warwickshire Regiment. He and all four of his sons served in France, including , Thomas K. Barnsley of the Coldstream Guards who died in Belgium in 1917 and Gordon Barnsley, President of the 1st Birmingham Boys Brigade Company.
Coming from a staunch Wesleyan family, he held many offices in the church and was a much appreciated Local Preacher and was President of the LPMAA in 1899, its jubilee year. He was knighted in 1914 was appointed a magistrate for Warwickshire and in 1918 a deputy-lieutenant of the county, but failed to win the Edgbaston seat for the Liberals that year. He died on 19 January1926.