James Montgomery, son of John Montgomery, a Moravian Church minister, was born at Irvine in Ayrshire on 4th November 1771. In 1776 he moved with his parents to the Settlement at Gracehill, near Ballymena in Northern Ireland. Two years after he was sent to Fulneck School.
Montgomery left Fulneck in 1787, and worked at a shop at Mirfield. Soon tiring of that he got a similar job at Wath, near Rotherham, but found it just as bad. A journey to London, with the hope of finding a publisher for his youthful poems, ended in failure; and in 1792 he was glad to leave Wath for Sheffield to join Mr Gales, an auctioneer, bookseller, and printer of the Sheffield Register newspaper, as his assistant. In 1794 Mr Gales left England to avoid a political prosecution. Montgomery took the Sheffield Register in hand, changed its name to The Sheffield Iris, and continued to edit it for thirty-one years. During the next two years he was imprisoned twice, firstly for reprinting a song in commemoration of “The Fall of the Bastille,” and secondly for giving an account of a riot in Sheffield. The editing of his paper, the composition and publication of his poems and hymns, the delivery of lectures on poetry in Sheffield and at the Royal Institution, London, and the earnest advocacy of Foreign Missions and the Bible Society in many parts of the country, gave great variety but little of great incident to his life.
In 1833 Montgomery received a Royal pension of £200 a year. He died in his sleep, at the Mount, Sheffield, on 30th April 1854, and was honoured with a public funeral. A statue was erected to his memory in the Sheffield General Cemetery, and a stained glass window in the Parish Church. A Wesleyan chapel and a public hall are also named in his honour.