Cunliffe (known as 'Peter') was born at Bolton and educated at Owens College Manchester, where he enjoyed great success, both academic and athletic. He graduated in 1901, and took his MD two years later with a study of blood in malignant diseases. He became a house physician at MRI and was promoted to resident medical officer in 1906. Soon after, he was elected to the honorary staff. He was also a consultant tuberculosis officer to Manchester Council. In 1914 Cunliffe joined the staff of the 2nd Western General Hospital and became its registrar. In 1917 he went to France with the 57th General Hospital. In May 1918 Cunliffe took over command of the 2nd Western General Hospital. However, he had contracted an illness while in France and died in March 1919.