Hulton was the son of William Hulton and Jane (née Brooke). He was educated at Brasnenose College, Oxford. In 1808, he married his cousin Maria Ford with whom he had 13 children, 10 of whom survived to maturity.
In 1811 he was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire. In this capacity he ordered the arrest of 12 men, Luddites, for arson at Westhoughton Mill in Westhoughton town centre. Four of the offenders were hanged outside Lancaster Castle, including a boy aged 12. Hulton gained a reputation as being tough on crime and political dissent, and in 1819, he was made chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates, a body set up for dealing with the civil unrest endemic in the area.
In 1819 he summoned the local Yeomanry to deal with a large crowd in St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, which had gathered to hear the political agitator Henry Hunt. The Yeomanry, on horseback with sabres drawn, forced its way through the crowd to break up the rally and allow Hunt to be arrested. Twelve people died from sabre and musket wounds or trampling and the event became known as the Peterloo Massacre. Hulton was vilified by the local population and was obliged to decline a safe parliamentary seat offered to him in 1820.
As the owner of Hulton Park, he derived income from the seven collieries working the coal measures under the park or nearby and in 1824 became chairman of the Bolton and Leigh Railway Company, which planned and built the first public railway in Lancashire. The line ran to the west of his estate from Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Leigh, enabling him to deliver his coal to market more cheaply. The line was connected to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 giving him and other local businessmen access to the Port of Liverpool.
Until 1831 Hulton paid his workers with tokens or vouchers that could only be redeemed in his company shop, a practice outlawed by the passing of the Truck Act of 1831. In 1843 Hulton paid his colliers the poorest wages in Lancashire. He remained opposed to permitting the right to free assembly and was vehemently opposed to miners congregating with the object of forming a union. He established the Hulton Colliery Company in 1858.
Note! The Peterloo Massacre plays a central role in my Regency era novella, “His Irish Eve,” which is paired with “His American Heartsong” in His: Two Regency Novellas (available from all major booksellers).