James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale

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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, Bt from 1886, until he was elevated to the peerage in 1907. He was a prominent Unitarian in Leeds.

He was the younger son of James Kitson of Elmete Hall (1807–1885), a locomotive manufacturer who founded Kitson and Company, and his wife Ann Newton. He went to school in Wakefield and studied chemistry and natural sciences at University College London. With his elder brother, Frederick William (b.1829), James developed an iron foundry into a large company; Monkbridge Iron and Steel Works. Another brother, John Hawthorn Kitson (d.1899) had a daughter Jessie Beatrice Kitson (b.1877) who was Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1942. Like his niece, James Kitson would also become Lord Mayor of Leeds; in 1896 and 1897.[1]

The success of the iron and steel works 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 himself in 1892, continuing to 1907, supporting education, Irish home rule, and old age pensions. He was a member of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He supported local education, notably 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 also the first Lord Mayor of Leeds (1896 and 1897).[2]

He and his family 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 the extension of the vestry. William Morris designed a window to James'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] The church guidebook describes the early twentieth century as "a small but politically active and very influential congregation led by the Revd Charles Hargrove and Sir James Kitson".[4]

In 1878 he purchased Gledhow Hall, a country estate in the village of Gledhow, near Leeds, between Chapel Allerton and Roundhay. Gledhow Hall had been painted by J.M.W. Turner.[5] Kitson redecorated the hall and entertained lavishly, including playing host to both Prime Minister William Gladstone and his son, Viscount Gladstone MP, who was a witness at Kitson's second marriage in 1881, to Mary Laura Smith.[6] 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.[7]

He 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. His body was brought to Leeds for a funeral and burial at Roundhay.


He married (1) Emily Christina Cliff, on 20 September 1860. They had five (surviving) children.

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


  1. "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...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. List of Mayors and Lord Mayor on Leeds Council website
  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. 1989 Mill Hill Chapel Guidebook, cited in British Listed Buildings
  5. Rayner, Gordon (13 September 2013). "'Middle-class' Duchess of Cambridge's relative wore crown and attended George V's coronation". Daily Telegraph. p. 7. Retrieved 15 February 2015. Baroness Airedale was a (second) cousin of Michael Middleton’s grandmother, Olive. She lived in a grand country house near Leeds called Gledhow Hall, which was once painted by JMW Turner, and was also invited to the coronation of the Queen’s father, George VI.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Web, Kanga. "James Kitson" (PDF). History of Kitson family. Kangaweb Pty Ltd. Retrieved 23 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Campbell, Gordon (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. Oxford University Press. p. 162.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Rt Hon Sir James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale of Gledhow". Red1st.com. Retrieved 19 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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