Hugh Gresty was born at Nelson and was awarded a County Council art exhibition at Nelson Technical School in 1914. After two years,he received a Board of Education Certificate, entitling him to instruct in art. He joined the army and was seriously wounded at Ypres. On his demobilization he received a government grant for a two years' course at Goldsmith's College, London. During that time he produced etchings of London. In 1924, one of his paintings was accepted for display at the Royal Academy exhibition, at which time he was studying in Italy. He exhibited in the local artists' exhibition at Towneley in 1924 and 1925.
In 1925, he was elected an associate of the Royal Society of British Artists and a member of the society in 1927. In 1935, he was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours. He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy up until 1939.
He had married Elizabeth Waters of Nelson in June 1926 and moved to St Ives in Cornwall, where he lived for the rest of his life apart from painting trips to the continent and occasional visits to Nelson. He was visiting Nelson when he died in August 1958 and he was cremated in Skipton and his ashes interred at Lelant Cemetery in Cornwall.
Towneley did not buy any of Gresty's work during his lifetime. When his wive died in 1964, she bequeathed paintings among others to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and City of Manchester Art Gallery. Towneley received three oil paintings, a watercolour, two etchings and three sketchers' notebooks used by her husband when he was studying at Nelson School of Art in 1915. She also bequeathed paintings by Harold Harvey, Dod Procter and Walter Procter, members of the artists community in Cornwall during the 1920s. Since then Towneley has purchased an oil painting and three watercolours to add to the collections.