Began working life as a silk spinner and then in 1846, with two fellow workers, started a silk-spinning and hat-making business in Rochdale, Lancs. Watson pioneered the use of silk plush in hat-making, setting up the business of Thomas Watson and Son in Rochdale. He was elected to the Rochdale School Board and financed the building of the town's Infirmary. Watson, treasurer of the UMFC, was the first member of the denomination to enter Parliament. He was elected Liberal MP for Ilkeston in 1885, retained the seat in 1886, and held it until his death on 7 March 1887.