Hooley was the developer of the world's first industrial park, Trafford Park on the outskirts of Manchester.
Hooley was born in Sneinton, Nottinghamshire, the only child of Terah Hooley, a lacemaker, and his wife Elizabeth. He joined his father's lace business and in 1881 married baker's daughter Annie Maria, with whom he had four daughters and three sons. Possibly with the assistance of an inheritance from his mother, Hooley bought Risley Hall in Derbyshire for £5,000 in 1888, and in the following year set himself up as a stockbroker in Nottingham.
Hooley moved his business to London in 1896 and began to affect "a lavish lifestyle". The rise in his fortunes coincided with the boom in bicycles that year, and until the 1898 slump in that business he had promoted 26 manufacturers with a total nominal capital of £18.6 million; to impress investors he populated the boards of his companies with members of the aristocracy. One of his most profitable deals was the purchase of the Trafford Park estate from Sir Humphrey Francis de Trafford in 1896. Hooley's original plan was to convert the park into a high-class residential area containing 500 grand villas, a racecourse, and an industrial fringe along the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, but he was persuaded instead to develop the site as an industrial estate, the first in the world and still the largest in Europe.
In 1895, he purchased Papworth Hall in Cambridgeshire. He was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for 1897.
In 1896, he purchased the 2,000 acre Anmer Hall estate in Norfolk for £25,000 which he later resold to the Prince of Wales at cost. The Prince of Wales had attempted to purchase the property prior to Hooley buying it, but it has been suggested his subsequent effort to secure it may have been to avoid the possibility of Hooley's business promoter Alexander Meyrick Broadley, whom he had earlier forced from Society, from becoming a constant guest and neighbour. In the later prosecution of Hooley, Broadley was denounced by Sir Robert Wright, Justice of the Court of the Queen's Bench, as the real author of Hooley's schemes.