James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale

Sir James Kitson c. 1895
Lord Airedale, oil on canvas, John Singer Sargent, 1905

James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale (22 September 1835 – 16 March 1911), PC, DSc, was an industrialist, locomotive builder, Liberal Party politician and a Member of Parliament for the Holme Valley. He was known as Sir James Kitson from 1886, until he was elevated to the peerage in 1907. Lord Airedale was a prominent Unitarian in Leeds, Yorkshire.


James Kitson's parents were James Kitson (1807–1885) a selk-made locomotive manufacturer who founded Kitson and Company, and his wife Ann Newton of Elmete Hall in Leeds. They had many children.[1] One of them, Emily, married the royal obstetrician William Smoult Playfair in 1864, and thus became inadvertently involved in a court case with implications for medical ethics that still resonate today.[2]

Kitson attended school in Wakefield and studied chemistry and natural sciences at University College London.[1]

The loss of his first wife Emily in 1873 was devastating. His sister-in-law Clara Talbot (née Cliff, died 1905), and her husband Grosvenor Talbot were described as "lifelines", "tending to the grieving man and looking after his children". Kitson and Talbot were college friends. Four years later Kitson suffered another blow with the death of his older brother Frederick, a "gifted engineer".[3]

Gledhow Hall

In 1885 Kitson purchased Gledhow Hall[4] in Gledhow, Leeds. He redecorated the hall and entertained lavishly including playing host to Prime Minister William Gladstone and his son, Herbert, who was a witness at Kitson's second marriage to Mary Laura Smith in 1881.[5] He commissioned Burmantofts Pottery to create an elaborate bathroom of faience, glazed architectural terra-cotta, in honour of a visit from the Prince of Wales circa 1885.[6]


In 1854, when Kitson was aged nineteen, his father bought the ironworks at Monk Bridge and put him and his elder brother, Frederick, in charge. Monkbridge was amalgamated with their father's Airedale Foundry in 1858. In 1886 the business was a limited liability company under family control with £250,000 in capital. Frederick Kitson withdrew from the business because of ill health several years before his death in 1877. Kitson's father retired in 1876 but James Kitson in reality ran the firm from 1862. The Airedale Foundry built nearly 6,000 locomotives for use in Britain and abroad from when it was founded until the end of the 19th century. The company diversified into manufacturing stationary engines for agricultural use and steam engines for tramways. From the 1880s, the Monkbridge works made steel using the Siemens–Martin open-hearth process. The Airedale Foundry and Monkbridge Works both employed about 2000 workers in 1911.[1]

In connection with his business interests Kitson was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1859 and was president of the Iron Trade Association. He was president of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1889 and was awarded the institute's Bessemer gold medal in 1903. Between 1899 and 1901, he was a member of the council of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

Kitson's other interests included the London and Northern Steamship Company, the Yorkshire Banking Company. He was a director of the London City and Midland Bank and president of the Baku Russian Petroleum Company. He was also a director of the North Eastern Railway Company. He was president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce from 1880 to 1881.[1]

Financial success allowed Kitson time, money and influence to pursue other interests including politics. He was President of the Leeds Liberal Association, and ran the election campaign for William Ewart Gladstone. In 1880, Kitson was a committee member of the Leeds Trained Nurses Institution.[7] He was MP for Colne Valley from 1892 until 1907, supporting education, Irish Home Rule, and old age pensions. Kitson was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He supported the Mechanics' Institute and the Yorkshire College, the forerunner of the University of Leeds, which awarded him an honorary doctorate, DSc in 1904.[8] Kitson was never a member of Leeds Council but was the city's first lord mayor in 1896–7. He was created a baronet in 1886 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1906.[1] On 17 July 1907 Kitson was raised to the peerage as the first Baron Airedale, of Gledhow in the West Riding of the County of York.[9]


Airedale died following a heart attack in Paris at the Hotel Meurice on 16 March 1911. He had been returning home by train from the south of France. His funeral service was held at Mill Hill Chapel on 22 March before his body was taken for burial to Roundhay Church along a route lined by 4000 workpeople. A subsequent memorial service at St Margaret's Church in Westminster was attended by a hundred MPs.[1]

Mill Hill ChapelEdit

The Kitsons were closely linked to Mill Hill Chapel, the Unitarian church on Leeds City Square made famous by the ministry of Joseph Priestley a century before. In 1897 Kitson paid for an extension to the vestry. William Morris designed a window which was dedicated to Kitson's mother Ann, who died in 1865. After his death, Archibald Keightley Nicholson created a window in his name, representing the continuation of Christianity.[10] In the early-20th century the chapel had "a small but politically active and very influential congregation led by the Reverend Charles Hargrove and Sir James Kitson".[11] The 1899 House of Commons Parliamentary Papers record Kitson as contributing to a Parliamentary inquiry into the Religious Education for Dissenting Protestants.[12]


Kitson married Emily Christina Cliff on 20 September 1860. Emily was involved in the establishment of the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education alongside Frances Lupton.[13] Kitson and his wife Emily had issue:

Kitson married Mary Laura Smith (died 1939) on 1 June 1881 and had issue:

Mayors and lord mayorsEdit

Several members of the Kitson family were mayor or Lord Mayor of Leeds:[15]

  • In 1860 and 1861, James Kitson
  • In 1896 and 1897, his son, Sir James Kitson MP (later the 1st Baron Airedale)
  • In 1908 (and briefly in 1910), Frederick J Kitson
  • In 1942, Jessie Beatrice Kitson

Lord Airedale's father, James Kitson was Mayor of Leeds in 1860–1861.[16] A generation later it was his son who became the first Lord Mayor in 1896–1897.

The 1908 the lord mayor was Frederick James Kitson, Lord Airedale's nephew.[17]

In late 1942, the elected lord mayor died suddenly, and the council asked a fourth Kitson to take over: Jessie Beatrice Kitson (born 1877), daughter of John Hawthorn Kitson (died 1899) the younger brother of the first Lord Airedale.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cookson, Gillian (2004). "Kitson, James, first Baron Airedale (1835–1911)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Miller, Jill Ashley (2007). Call Back Yesterday. London: Strathmore Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-9550887-3-5. OCLC 751047782.
  4. ^ Bradford, Eveleigh (2008). Headingley:'this Pleasant Rural Village'; Clues to the Past. Jeremy Mills Publishing. p. 110.
  5. ^ Web, Kanga. "James Kitson" (PDF). History of Kitson family. Kangaweb Pty Ltd. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  6. ^ Campbell, Gordon (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. Oxford University Press. p. 162.
  7. ^ Stark, M. (2016). The Englishwoman's Review of Social and Industrial Questions: 1880. Routledge. ISBN 9781315404486.
  8. ^ "List of Mayors and Lord Mayor". Leeds Council.
  9. ^ Iron & Steel Trades Journal and Iron Trade Circular. 88. 1911. p. 264.
  10. ^ Memorial Window to the Late Lord Airedale. Report of the Proceedings at the Unveiling Ceremony ... Together with a Description of the Window. 8 page booklet published by the chapel.
  11. ^ Stuff, Good. "Mill Hill Chapel, City and Hunslet, Leeds".
  12. ^ "Parliamentary Papers: 1850-1908, Volume 71". Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons – H.M. Stationery Office, 1899. Retrieved 15 December 2018. ... of such dissenting protestants ... at the date of the Inquiry were Sir James Kitson, Baronet, M.P.
  13. ^ Dunkley, S. J. "Women Magistrates, Ministers and Municipal Councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire 1918-1939" (PDF). University of Sheffield 1991. p. 9. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  14. ^ "Rt Hon Sir James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale of Gledhow". Red1st.com. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Lord Mayors & Aldermen of Leeds since 1626" (PDF). Leeds.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  16. ^ Welch, Charles. "Kitson James". Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Latest Wills – Former Leeds Lord Mayor Mr. F. J. Kitson Leaves £l,OOO for Hospitals £115,000 Estate". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. West Yorkshire, England. Retrieved 14 February 2016. Mr. Frederick James Kitson, of Quarry Dene, Weetwood, Leeds, a former Lord Mayor of Leeds, and a nephew of the first Lord Airedale, who died on November 19, 1935, aged 74, left (net ...)
  18. ^ "Formal Election". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. West Yorkshire, England. 14 November 1942. Retrieved 23 September 2015. (Beatrice Jessie Kitson came from a) distinguished Leeds family. She was born in Hyde Terrace 1876, the daughter of the late Mr John Hawthorn Kitson (son of James Kitson Senior born 1807), head of the famous Airedale Foundry, who married Miss Jessie Ellershaw, a member another well-known Leeds family...
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Beaumont
Member of Parliament for Colne Valley
Succeeded by
Victor Grayson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry Fell Pease
President of the National Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
Robert Spence Watson
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Airedale
Succeeded by
Albert Kitson
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Gledhow)
Succeeded by
Albert Kitson

External linksEdit