Kitson, James (DNB12)

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KITSON, JAMES, first Baron Airedale (1835–1911), iron and steel manufacturer, second of the four sons of James Kitson of Elmete Hall, Yorkshire (1807–1885), by his wife Ann, daughter of John Newton of Leeds, was born at Leeds on 22 Sept. 1835. His father, who started life in humble circumstances and was a friend of George Stephenson, established engineering works at Airedale and proved a pioneer of engineering industry in the north of England; the first locomotive seen in the West Riding came from his workshop; he was mayor of Leeds in 1860-2.

Educated first at Wakefield proprietary school and afterwards at University College, London, young Kitson was placed, with his elder brother Frederick William, in charge of the Monkbridge ironworks, which had been purchased by his father in 1854 to supply his Airedale foundry at Hunslet and other engineering works with sound Yorkshire iron. On the death of his brother in 1877 James assumed the sole direction of the ironworks, and assisted his father also at the Hunslet works. These now (1912) cover twelve acres and give employment to 2000 workmen. Although builders of stationary engines and other machinery, the firm is best known as constructors of locomotives especially suited to the various requirements of mountain ranges, deserts, or swamps. The business was converted into a limited liability company in 1886, but Kitson retained an active supervision of its affairs, assisted by his eldest son and his nephew, F. J. Kitson.

A successful ironmaster, he soon attained eminence in the industrial world. He was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute, was its president in 1889-91, and was awarded the Bessemer gold medal in May 1903. He became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1859, and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in December 1876, serving on its council from 1899 to 1901. He was also president of the Iron Trade Association.

Kitson was a devoted citizen of Leeds. He was its first lord mayor in 1896-7, and was president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce in 1880-1, taking a lifelong interest in social and educational movements. In 1862 he had instituted a model-dwelling scheme for Leeds workers, was a generous supporter of the Leeds General Infirmary, and president of the Hospitals for Poor Consumptives organised by the Leeds Tuberculosis Association. To the Leeds Art Gallery he gave Lord Leighton's picture 'The Return of Persephone.' In October 1904 the Leeds University conferred on him the honorary degree of D.Sc. He also received on 23 May 1906 the honorary freedom of the city, and at the beginning of 1908 was elected president of the Leeds Institute.

In his early business career he became honorary secretary of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutes, one of the earliest institutions of its kind in the country, and helped to establish the Holbeck Institute, of which he became trustee. He was also connected with the National Education League, and acted as secretary of the Leeds branch. A warm supporter of the liberal party, he first became prominent as a politician at the time of the Education Act of 1870. He was chosen in 1880 president of the Leeds Liberal Association, and in the same year took a conspicuous part in securing the return of Gladstone for the borough. He was from 1883 to 1890 president of the National Liberal Federation. After unsuccessfully contesting central Leeds in 1886, he represented the Colne Valley division of the West Riding from 1892 to 1907. He was active in promoting old age pensions, and was elected president of the National Old Age Pensions League at its inauguration on 24 October 1894. Kitson, who was created a baronet on 28 Aug. 1886, was made a privy councillor on 30 June 1906, and was created Baron Airedale of Gledhow on 17 July 1907. An ardent free trader, he had charge in 1906 of the motion by which the liberal government contested the question of tariff reform.

Amongst other activities, he was honorary colonel of the 3rd volunteer battalion of the West Yorkshire regiment; chairman of the London and Northern Steamship Co., the Yorkshire Banking Co., and the Baku Russian Petroleum Co.; and director of the London City and Midland Bank and of the North Eastern Railway Company. A member of the Unitarian body, he devoted much of his time and means to religious and philanthropic objects.

Airedale died in Paris from a cardiac affection on 10 March 1911, and was buried in St. John's churchyard, Roundhay, Leeds.

He was twice married: (1) on 20 Sept. 1860 to Emily Christiana (d. 1873), second daughter of Joseph Cliff of Wortley, Yorkshire, by whom he had three sons, Albert Ernest, who succeeded to the peerage, James Clifford, and Edward Christian, and two daughters; (2) on 1 June 1881 to Mary Laura, only daughter of Edward Fisher Smith of the Priory, Dudley, by whom he had one son, Roland Dudley, and a daughter. He left an estate provisionally sworn at 1,000,000l.

A portrait painted by Mr. J. S. Sargent in 1905 is in possession of the family at Gledhow Hall, Leeds. A bust by Mr. Spruce, a local sculptor, is to be placed in Leeds Town Hall, by gift of Mr. Middlebrook, M.P. A memorial sundial at the Springfield Convalescent Home, Horsforth, was subscribed for by the firm's workmen in October 1911.

[The Times, 17, 23, and 29 March 1911; Lodge's Peerage, 1912; Proc. Inst. Civ. Engineers, v. 186, pp. 446-7; McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book, 1910, pp. 145, 267-8; Yorkshire Post, 17 Mar. 1911; Pall Mall Mag. (portrait) 1907, v. 40, pp. 417-24; the Rev. C. Hargrove's In memory of James Kitson, first Baron Airedale (reprint from Yorkshire Post, with additions and portrait), 1911; Leeds Hospital Mag., Nov. 1911, pp. 221-3; Morley's Life of Gladstone; private information.]

C. W.