John Towneley was the second son of Richard Towneley (1689-1735). He was born at Towneley but, after his childhood, he spent little time at Towneley. As a boy, he had no expectation of inheriting Towneley for his brother William had three healthy sons. However none of these sons had any children and so he inherited the Towneley estate in 1807. Although he left nothing in the way of any changes to the house, he did much to retain Towneley for future generations, simply by being the second surviving son.
John was particularly fortunate in being left a number of properties by relatives prior to him inheriting the Towneley estate in 1807 so he had ample means to indulge his passion for books. His main interests seem to have been early printed books, particularly well illustrated ones, and English topography. He died in May 1813 and shortly after his son Peregrine sold his father's library as the Bibliotheca Towneleiana and used the money to make major changes to Towneley according to the plans of Jeffry Wyatt .