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James Kitson (1835-1911)

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1911. Lord Airdale.

James Kitson (1835-1911) of Monk Bridge Iron Co.

1835 Born at Leeds the son of James Kitson

Attended Wakefield proprietary school and University College, London, where he studied chemistry and natural sciences.

1854 Kitson and his elder brother, Frederick William (1829–1877), were put in charge of a recently established ironworks at Monk Bridge, Leeds, which their father had bought for them.

1859 James Kitson, Junior, Monkbridge Iron Works, Leeds.[1]

1860 Married Emily Christiana, daughter of Joseph Cliff of Wortley, Leeds. They had three sons and two daughters.

1862 James Kitson was effectively head of the firm from 1862

1873 Emily died

1877 Assisted his father in the wider responsibility of the engineering factory at Hunslet

1880 President of the Leeds Liberal Association; ran W. E. Gladstone's election campaign.

1881 Living at Headingley Lane, Leeds (age 45 born Leeds), Ironmaster and Widower. With children Alice Hilda (age 8) and Ed. Christian (age 7) plus his sister Eva Margaret (age 11). Also six servants. [2]

1881 He married Mary Laura, daughter of Edward Fisher Smith, of Dudley, on 1 June 1881, with whom he had a son and a daughter.

1881 Kitson retained a cordial relationship with Gladstone - during the latter's visit to Leeds in October 1881, the prime minister stayed at Kitson's house.

From 1883 he was president of the National Liberal Federation until 1890.

1892 Kitson became member of parliament for the Colne Valley, holding the seat until 1907.

1886 He was created a baronet

1896 Became first Lord Mayor of Leeds.

1907 Became Baron Airedale of Gledhow.

1911 March 16th. Died at the Hotel Meurice in Paris



1911 Obituary [3]

JAMES KITSON, BARON AIREDALE OF GLEDHOW, was born in Leeds on 22nd September 1835, being the second son of the late James Kitson, who, in 1832, had commenced in a small way the engineering works which subsequently developed into the extensive Airedale Foundry, Leeds. The workshop was part of the ground floor of is weaving-mill at Hunslet, and here his first locomotive was built during the year of the birth of his second son, who became Lord Airedale.

The subject of this memoir obtained the earlier part of his education at the Wakefield Preparatory School, proceeding biter to University College, London, where he continued until nineteen years of age. His father had meanwhile developed his business, and taken complete possession of the whole of the weaving-mill and extended the boundaries.

In order to obtain a supply of reliable Yorkshire iron, he purchased the Monk Bridge Iron Works at Holbeck in 1854, and placed it in complete charge of his two sons—the eldest the late Mr. F. W. Kitson,. and the second son, Mr. James Kitson.

In 1877, owing to the death of his brother, he had not only to take complete control of the ironworks, but had also to assist his father in the wider responsibility of the engineering factory at Hunslet. The relationship between the workmen and their employers was exceedingly cordial, as was shown on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the association of the firm with the Monk Bridge Works, and the jubilee of the works in 1904.

It was the same, too, with the employees at the works at Hunslet, which now cover over a dozen acres, and afford employment to 2,000 workmen. Although the co-partnery was converted into a limited liability company in 1886, Lord Airedale continued to take a most active part. In addition to building locomotives they established other branches of business, notably stationary engines for rolling mills and blowing engines.

He was closely associated with many of the technical societies. He became a Member of this Institution in 1859, and on the occasions of the Summer Meetings being held in Leeds, he was always a prominent member of the Reception Committee. He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and served for some years on its Council. The Iron and Steel Institute had the first place in his regard, because of his early association with the production of Yorkshire iron. He was one of the original Members of the Institute, and served for a long time on the Council, being President in 1889 and 1890. The Bessemer Gold Medal of the Institute was awarded to him in 1903.

Lord Airedale followed the example of his father by devoting a large part of his time to the advancement of social and educational movements. As early as 1862 he, along with others, instituted the Model Dwellings scheme in Leeds, and encouraged the workers to erect dwelling-houses on a sound commercial basis.

Throughout his life he devoted much attention to the education question, in both elementary and higher branches, and in this connection his work was recognized by the University of Leeds in 1904, when the honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon him, not only because of his liberal support to the funds but because of his help in advancing science and industry. He was also active in developing the commerce of Yorkshire, and was for two years (1880-1) president of the Chamber of Commerce.

He was a Justice of the Peace for Leeds and for the West Riding of Yorkshire, and was unanimously elected Mayor of Leeds for 1896-7. During this latter period the dignity of a Lord Mayorship was granted to the city by Queen Victoria.

In later years Lord Airedale devoted much of his time to political work. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter Parliament for Central Leeds in 1886, he succeeded, six years later, in being chosen for the Colne Valley, and sat for this constituency until elevated to the Peerage in 1907.

A Baronetcy was conferred upon him in 1886, a Privy Councillorship in 1906, and he was raised to the Peerage in 1907 as the first Baron Airedale of Gledhow.

While returning from the south of France he was seized in the train with a heart attack, and died shortly after reaching Paris, on 16th March 1911, in his seventy-sixth year.


1911 Obituary [4]

THE RIGHT HON. JAMES KITSON, BARON AIREDALE of Gledhow, P.C., died in Paris from cardiac affection on the 17th March, 1911, at the age of 76 years.

Born on the 22nd September, 1835, he was the second son of the late James Kitson, who had recently started the engineering works which later developed into the Airedale Foundry.

The subject of this memoir was educated at Wakefield and at University College, London. He was then, with his brother, the late Mr. F. W. Kitson, placed in charge of the Monk Bridge Ironworks, which had been purchased by his father to supply the Airedale and other engineering works with reliable Yorkshire iron.

In 1877 Mr. F. W. Kitson died, and in consequence, the younger brother had not only to assume the sole direction of the ironworks, but had also to assist his father at the Hunslet works. The latter establishment developed to such an extent that the works now cover 12 acres, and give employment to 2,000 workmen.

The undertaking was converted into a limited liability company in 1886, but Lord Airedale continued the active direction of affairs, assisted by his eldest son, Mr. A. E. Kitson and his nephew, Mr. F. J. Kitson.

Although building stationary engines and other machinery, the works are best known for the construction of locomotives peculiarly suited to the characteristics of the countries for which they were desired, and Hunslet engines are in use all over the world. As an employer Lord Airedale was deservedly popular among his staff of all grades, an outstanding trait in his character being his care and consideration for the workmen, between whom and himself the happiest relations subsisted.

One of the most active leaders of industry in the North, he also took a prominent part in national politics and in municipal affairs. A warm supporter of the Liberal party, he became president first of the Leeds Liberal Association, and later, for 6 years, of the National Liberal Federation. Almost successful as candidate for Central Leeds in 1886, he entered Parliament in 1892 as member for the Colne Valley, continuing to represent this constituency until his elevation to the peerage in 1907. He was Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1896-1897, a freeman of the City, President of the Chamber of Commerce, and a Justice of the Peace for Leeds, and for the West Riding. He took a lifelong interest in social and educational movements, instituted a model-dwelling scheme for Leeds workers, and organized one of the earliest mechanics’ institutes in the country.

In 1904, in recognition of his aid to the Yorkshire College and his work for Leeds, and generally for the advancement of science and industry, the University of Leeds conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. He was one of the earliest to join the Volunteer movement, becoming Captain and later occupying an honorary rank.

Lord Airedale was intimately associated with several technical societies, and as a metallurgist first and foremost, he was especially interested in the Iron and Steel Institute, of which he was one of the original members, and became President in 1889. The Bessemer Gold Medal was awarded to him in 1903. He was also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and President of the Iron Trade Association.

As a Unitarian, he devoted much time to religious matters and to philanthropy, giving freely to charitable objects. His services to the nation were rewarded by a baronetcy, conferred on him in 1886, his election to the Privy Council in 1906, and his elevation to the peerage as first Baron Airedale of Gledhow in 1907. He was twice married; first, in 1860, to Emily, daughter of Mr. Joseph Cliff, of Leeds, who died in 1873; and secondly, in 1881, to Mary, daughter of the late Mr. E. F. Smith, of Batley. His heir is the Hon. A. E. Kitson, of Scarborough.

Lord Airedale was elected a Member of The Institution on the 5th December, 1876, and served as a Member of Council between l899 and 1901.


1911 Obituary [5]

THE Right Honourable JAMES KITSON, first Baron Airedale of Gledhow, died in Paris on March 17, at the age of seventy-five, as the result of a short and sudden illness which occurred during his return from Nice, where he had been staying, to the French capital.

By his death the Institute has to deplore the loss of one of its most enthusiastic and constant supporters. The deceased peer, who was perhaps better known as Sir James Kitson, was the second son of the late James Kitson, a contemporary of Stephenson, and the owner of an engineering works which, although started on an exceedingly modest scale, was destined to become one of the largest and best known in the kingdom. James Kitson was born on September 22, 1835, and was educated at Wakefield, and subsequently at University College, London. His elder brother, Mr. Frederick W. Kitson, was an original Vice-President of the Iron and Steel Institute, of which the subject of this memoir was likewise an original member.

The Airedale Foundry was at first installed on the ground floor of a weaving-mill in Hunslet. It was here, in the year that James Kitson was born, that his father completed the first locomotive built by the firm, and solved the difficulty of removing it from the workshop in which it had been erected by the simple, but now historical, expedient of knocking down the wall. Some years later the Monkbridge Iron Works at Holbeck was founded, and James Kitson and his elder brother were given complete charge of the new enterprise, which they continued conjointly to manage until 1877, when Mr. F. W. Kitson died, and James had thenceforward not only to assume complete control of the ironworks, but also to assist his father in the management of the flourishing locomotive manufactures at Hunslet.

In 1886 the Kitson interests were converted into a limited company, in which James Kitson, who in the same year was created a baronet, continued to take an active part, assisted by his eldest son, the Honourable A. E. Kitson, and his nephew, Mr. Fred J. Kitson.

The locomotives made by the firm •have acquired world-wide celebration, and have been exported all over the world, where they have amply vindicated the claims made on behalf of British workmanship and engineering skill. The growth of the enterprise controlled by Sir James Kitson can be estimated from the fact that the engineering works at Hunslet alone now occupy over a dozen acres, and afford employment to upwards of 2000 workmen.

To directive abilities of the highest order, the late Lord Airedale added a minute and extensive knowledge of the details of the business, and a wide grasp of those scientific and technical bases upon which metallurgical industries must necessarily be established. He was a constant attendant at the meetings of the Iron and Steel Institute, and took an active part in the discussions on such subjects as bore upon the practical and engineering aspects of metallurgy, while his services to the Institute in this direction were further enhanced by his contributing to its proceedings in 1888 a valuable paper on "A Horizontal Compound Lever Testing Machine of 15,000 Power; with a further Recording Lever of 150,000 Powers," and by a number of masterly addresses delivered in 1889, on his election to the Presidency, and at the various meetings of the Institute in the same year, as well as on the occasion of the International Meeting of the Iron and Steel Institute and the Verein deutscher Ingenieure at Pittsburg in the following year. For his many services to metallurgy he was, in 1902, awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal. He was also an ardent supporter of technical education, and for several years served as Honorary Secretary to the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutes, which he had previously founded. In addition to this he was a liberal contributor to the establishment of the University of Leeds, his services in this connection being recognised in 1904 by the award of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. He was also a patron of the arts, and presented to the Art Gallery of Leeds the celebrated picture, " The Return of Persephone," by Lord Leighton.

It was, however, in politics that the peculiar gifts of Sir James Kitson found most extensive application. A friend of Mr. Gladstone's and a stalwart member of the Liberal party, he was, from 1883 to 1890, President of the National Liberal Federation. His Parliamentary career commenced in 1892, when he was elected a member for Colne Valley, although he had previously been, as early as 1886, an unsuccessful candidate for the Central Division of his native city.

Thereafter he sat continuously until 1907, and his Parliamentary career was no less brilliant than his career as a 'captain of industry.

His elocutionary powers were great, and his incisive delivery and the perfect grasp of his subject to which he always attained secured for him a degree of attention denied to many of his less gifted colleagues.

He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1906, and in 1907 was raised to the peerage as Baron Airedale of Gledhow. He was the first Lord Mayor of Leeds, and was for some time President of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, while at the time of his death, in addition to being the senior Past-President of the Iron and Steel Institute, and a member of the Council of the British Iron Trade Association, he was chairman of Kitson & Company, Limited, Airedale Foundry, Hunslet, Leeds; chairman of the London and Northern Steamship Company, Limited; chairman of the Monk Bridge Iron and Steel Company, Limited; and a director of the North-Eastern Railway Company, the London City and Midland Bank, Limited, the London City and Midland Executor and Trustee Company, Limited, and the West Galicia Railway Company. He is succeeded in the peerage by his eldest son, the Right Honourable A. E. Kitson, who was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in the year 1889.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography of James Kitson, first Baron Airedale, ODNB