James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale

James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale PC, DSc (22 September 1835 – 16 March 1911) was a British politician of the Liberal Party, first a Member of Parliament and then a peer. 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.

Family background and early life

His parents were James Kitson of Elmete Hall (1807–1885), a locomotive manufacturer who founded Kitson and Company, and his wife Ann Newton. They had many children. Their daughter Emily married William Smoult Playfair, royal obstetrician,[1] and had a son, actor-manager Sir Nigel Playfair.

James (Jnr) went to school in Wakefield and studied chemistry and natural sciences at University College London.

With his elder brother, Frederick William (b.1829), James (Jnr.) developed the iron foundry that their father bought for them into a large company, Monkbridge Iron and Steel Works.


This gave James the time, money and influence to pursue other interests including politics, becoming President of the Leeds Liberal Association, and running the election campaign for William Ewart Gladstone. He became an MP in 1892, continuing to 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. He was the first Lord Mayor of Leeds (1896 and 1897).[2]

Mill Hill Chapel

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 he 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.[3] In the early twentieth century the chapel was described as having "a small but politically active and very influential congregation led by the Revd Charles Hargrove and Sir James Kitson".[4] The 1899 House of Commons Parliamentary Papers record both Kitson and City of Leeds Alderman Francis Martineau Lupton as being instrumental in establishing a Parliamentary inquiry into the Religious Education for Dissenting Protestants.[5]

Gledhow Hall

In 1885 Kitson purchased Gledhow Hall[6] and estate in Gledhow, Leeds, between Chapel Allerton and Roundhay.

Kitson had redecorated the hall upon purchasing it and had entertained lavishly, including playing host to Prime Minister William Gladstone and his son, Herbert, who was a witness at Kitson's second marriage in 1881, to Mary Laura Smith.[7] 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 (later Edward VII) circa 1885.[8]


Kitson was created a baronet on 28 August 1886, and on 17 July 1907 was raised to the peerage as the first Baron Airedale, of Gledhow in the West Riding of the County of York. He died in Paris on 16 March 1911.[9] His body was brought to Leeds for a funeral and burial at Roundhay.


He married (1) Emily Christina Cliff, on 20 September 1860. Emily was involved in the establishment of the Yorkshire Ladies' Council of Education alongside Frances Lupton.[10] Kitson and his wife Emily had five (surviving) children.

He married (2) Mary Laura Smith, on 1 June 1881. They had two children.

Lord Mayors of Leeds

Several members of the Kitson family were mayor or Lord Mayor of Leeds. From the Leeds Council website:[12]

  • In 1860 and 1861, James Kitson Snr.
  • In 1896 and 1897, 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 Snr. - the original industrialist of Elmete Hall - was Mayor of Leeds in 1860-1861.[13] A generation later it was the subject of this article, a few years into his baronetcy, who became the first Lord Mayor in 1896-1897.

The 1908 lord mayor was the son of Lord Airedale's elder brother, Frederick William Kitson (d. 1877). This son, Frederick James Kitson of Gledhow Grove,[14] died in 1935.[15] His widow, Florence, died on 26 April 1943.[16]

Florence lived to see her husband's first cousin become the first female Lord Mayor; in late 1942, the elected lord mayor died suddenly, and the council asked a fourth Kitson to take over: Jessie Beatrice Kitson (b.1877), the daughter of John Hawthorn Kitson (d.1899), who was the younger brother of the first Lord Airedale.[17]


  1. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Playfair, William Smoult" . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. "List of Mayors and Lord Mayor". Leeds Council.
  3. 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.
  4. Stuff, Good. "Mill Hill Chapel, City and Hunslet, Leeds".
  5. "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., and Messrs. W.D. Cliff, F.M. Lupton, A.G. Lupton and H. Lupton....
  6. Bradford, Eveleigh (2008). "Headingley: 'this Pleasant Rural Village' ; Clues to the Past". Jeremy Mills Publishing. p. 110. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  7. Web, Kanga. "James Kitson" (PDF). History of Kitson family. Kangaweb Pty Ltd. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  8. Campbell, Gordon (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. Oxford University Press. p. 162.
  9. Iron & Steel Trades Journal and Iron Trade Circular. 88. 1911. p. 264.
  10. 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.
  11. "Rt Hon Sir James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale of Gledhow". Red1st.com. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  12. "Lord Mayors & Aldermen of Leeds since 1626" (PDF). Leeds.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  13. Welch, Charles. "Kitson James". Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  14. "LONG DELAYED SCHEME". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. West Yorkshire, England. Retrieved 14 February 2016. ...the patients at Beckett’s Park. Last summer His Majesty’s Office of Works purchased from Mr. F. J. Kitson, Gledhow Grove, formerly the residence of the Hon. Sir Gervase Beckett, M.P. for North Leeds. The house and grounds, which occupy an area of about acres..
  15. "Latest Wills FORMER LEEDS LORD MAYOR Mr. F. J. Kitson Leaves £l,OOO for Hospitals £115,000 ESTATE Mr. Frederick James Kitson,". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. West Yorkshire, England. Retrieved 14 February 2016. LORD MAYOR Mr. F. J. Kitson Leaves £l,OOO for Hospitals £115,000 ESTATE 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....
  16. "Obituary MRS. F. J. KITSON EX-LADY MAYORESS OF LEEDS Mrs. Florence (James) Kitson, widow of Mr. Frederick James Kitson (a former Lord Mayor of Leeds 1908)". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. West Yorkshire, England. Retrieved 14 February 2016. Obituary (26 April 1943) MRS. F. J. KITSON EX-LADY MAYORESS OF LEEDS Mrs. Florence Kltson, widow of Mr. Frederick James Kitson (a former Lord Mayor of Leeds, and (a first) cousin of Miss J. B. Kltson. present Lord Mayor of the city), died yesterday at her residence, Hill Court....
  17. "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

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