UMFC layman, born at Balladen Brook, Rochdale on 14 February 1840, the son of Ralph Duckworth, a poor weaver who died when James was six, haviing exhausted himself while helping a sick friend. After working in a mill and trying several other occupations, including that of lay evangelist, James opened his first shop in Oldham Road, Rochdale and developed it into a substantial firm of provision merchants bearing his name. He took a prominent part in local affairs, elected liberal councillor in 1887 and County Councillor in1892. He was mayor of Rochdale in 1893 and again in 1910, and was twice Liberal MP: for Middleton, Lancs 1897-1900 and for Stockport 1906-1910.
He became a close friend of Jesse Boot, with whom he had much in common, and was a generous benefactor of Victoria Park College. He was one of only two laymen elected President of the UMFC Assembly (1894) and is said to have preached 296 times during his presidential year. The articles he wrote for the Rochdale Observer during a trip around the world were published c.1903. He was knighted in 1908 and died on 1 January 1915.