The First Baron Airedale of Gledhow

Following last month’s article Model of Self-Help on the start of Kitson & Company I thought I would follow up with the younger James Kitson.

James Kitson (Junior) was born on 22 September 1835. He was the second son of James Kitson and his wife Ann (nee Newton) and was christened at St Peter’s Church. James (Junior) was educated at Wakefield Preparatory School and at University College, London, where he studied chemistry and natural science until he was 19 years old.

In 1854 his father had purchased the Monkbridge Ironworks to supply the Airedale Foundry, Hunslet, and other engineering works with sound Yorkshire iron. He placed his eldest son, Frederick William in charge and James (Junior) as his second. in 1877 when his brother died James assumed full charge of the Ironworks as well as assisting his father at the Hunslet works.

In 1861 James was living at 1 Hanover Square and newly married. James and Emily had been married about six months by License at a Unitarian Ceremony on 20 September 1860 at Mill Hill Chapel. James was 24 and like his father an ironmaster living at home in Little Woodhouse, Leeds.

Emily Christiana was 23 and from Western Flatts, Wortley, the daughter of Joseph Cliff, Fire Brick Maker and Magistrate.

Within ten years of their marriage James, Emily, and their family of three had moved from Hanover Square to Spring Bank House, 22 Otley Road, Headingley. While living here Emily gave birth to another two children.

A portrait of Baron Airedale of Gledhow

However, tragedy struck, for on 6 October 1873 Emily died aged 36 at Spring Bank House and in what had almost become a family custom Grovsner Talbot of Southfield, Burley was in attendance. The funeral took place on 9 October at the Kitson family church, St John’s, Roundhay. A plaque was placed on the wall of the church and recorded as W26 a large imposing monument commemorates Emily together with her husband.

In 1881 James was still a widower living at 49 Headingley Lane but like his father he married again, and by License. He married his second wife, Mary Laura Smith, in her home town of Dudley in the Parish Church on 1 June 1881.

Mary was 20 years his junior. She was the daughter of Edward Fisher Smith, Gentleman. Mary was born about 1857 to Edward and Mary Smith (nee Roberts) and lived at the Priory, 90 Trindle Road, Dudley. The year 1871 saw Mary at a girls boarding school at 26 & 27 Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham run by a Miss Eliza J Parkinson.

Just before her marriage she visited a banker’s house at Homesleigh, Rotten Row, Lewes. James and Mary had two children, a boy and a girl in their marriage. The family moved once again, this time to Gledhow Hall, Chapel Allerton, a move which confirmed Kitson’s status as one of the leading families of Leeds.

Gledhow Hall

Being a successful Ironmaster, James quickly attained eminence in the world of industry, he was an original member of the Iron & Steel Institute becoming its President in 1889-91 and was awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal in May 1903.

In 1859 he became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in December 1876 serving on its Council from 1899 to 1901, he was also the President of the Iron Trade Association.

Other business interests included chairmanships of the Yorkshire Banking Company, the London and Northern Steamship Company, and the Baku Russian Petroleum Company, and directorships of the London City and Midland Bank and the North Eastern Railway Company.

Kitson had been a member of the Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel since childhood, and was devoted to the Unitarians for the rest of his life. A memorial window to him was unveiled there in 1916.

His interests included social and educational work, and at an early age he became prominent in the mechanics’ institute movement, helping to establish a branch in Holbeck of which he became a Trustee, and acted as secretary of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes for seven years. He was also connected and acted as Secretary to the Leeds Branch with the National Education League.

A warm supporter of the Liberal Party, he first became prominent as a politician at the time of the 1870 Education Act. After unsuccessfully contesting Central Leeds in 1886, the same year he became a Baronet, he represented the Colne Valley division of the West Riding from 1892 to 1907. He was made a Privy Councillor on 30 June 1906 and created Baron Airedale of Gledhow on 17 July 1907.

Kitson was involved in launching a self-help model dwelling scheme in 1862, designed to enable working men to buy houses on easy terms, though run as a business rather than a charity. He was also a governor of the Leeds General Infirmary and contributed to organisations involved in treating tuberculosis and in training nurses.

He supported the Yorkshire College, later the University of Leeds, from its inception in the 1870s. 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.

All this good work ceased on 16 March 1911 when James Kitson, Baron Airedale of Gledhow died after suffering a heart attack in Paris at his hotel, he was returning home by train from the South of France. It is recorded that on hearing the news in Leeds the Town Hall bell was tolled. His funeral service was held at Mill Hill Chapel on 22 March before his body was taken to Roundhay Church for burial. Whether he had outlived his wife Mary is not known. His Baronetcy didn’t end until 1996 when the last surviving Kitson died without heirs because he never married.