The son of a farm labourer, he was born on 1 May 1851 at Greave Fold, Romiley, where he attended the Primitive Methodist Sunday School, meeting in an old thatched cottage. He began working in a cotton mill at ten and ten years later was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Gee Cross. Here he began attending the Wesleyan chapel and became a local preacher. He invented the Rowbotham Wheel, used in coal mining and this became the basis of his wealth. In 1887 the Rowbothams moved to Stockport to set up a small engineering works in order to manufacture his wheel, but soon relocated to the larger Victoria Engineering Works, Brewery Street, Portwood. His business acumen saved Broadstone Spinning Company, Reddish from bankruptcy in 1920. He became a partner of Leah & Rowbotham, iron merchants; chairman of Jackson Ltd., hatters and shoemakers, of E. Robinsons & Sons Ltd., tobacco manufacturers and of Andrew Machine Construction Co. Ltd. He remained Chairman of his own company for twenty-seven years. At various times he was also active in the Stockport Commercial Travellers Association.
Associated with Trinity Wesleyan, Stockport, in 1909 he was elected President of the Local Preachers Mutual Aid Association. Knighted in 1921, he received the freedom of Stockport in 1932. He served as alderman and mayor, giving Woodbank Memorial Park to the town. His daughter Florence also served on the council.