James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale

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Lord Airedale,
Oil on canvas, John Singer Sargent 1905

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, a locomotive manufacturer who founded Kitson and Company, and his wife Ann. He went to school in Wakefield and studied chemistry and natural sciences at University College London. With his elder brother, Frederick, he developed an iron foundry into a large company, Monkbridge iron and steel works. This gave him 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).[1]

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.[2] 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".[3]

In 1878 he purchased Gledhow Hall, a substantial country house in the village near Leeds that bears that name, between Chapel Allerton and Roundhay. He 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.[4] 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.[5]

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 six children.

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


  1. ^ List of Mayors and Lord Mayor on Leeds Council website
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 1989 Mill Hill Chapel Guidebook, cited in British Listed Buildings
  4. ^ Web, Kanga. "http://fretwell.kangaweb.com.au/pdfs/James%20Kitson%20Jnr.pdf". History of Kitson family. Kangaweb Pty Ltd. Retrieved August 23, 2013. 
  5. ^ Campbell, Gordon (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. Oxford University Press. p. 162. 
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