Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, he spent his childhood in various locations in England as his father, a Methodist minister, took up different appointments. He studied at Wesley College, Sheffield before training for the ministry at the Wesleyan College in Richmond (now Richmond, The American International University in London).
After ministering in various places in northern England, he took charge of a chapel in Lambeth in 1869, later moving to Bethnal Green in 1871. In 1869 he founded what is now the National Children's Home. In 1873 he was appointed principal of the home.
A biography by William Bradfield here