Kitsons & the Airedale Foundry

See also Kitson family

George W. Carpenter (ODNB) provides an excellent introduction to the firm, which was essentially family-owned. Encouraged by his studies of Nicholas Wood's Practical Treatise on Rail-Roads James Kitson quickly realized the great potential future of steam locomotives and in 1837 he joined Charles Todd, who had been apprenticed to James Fenton of the locomotive builders Fenton, Murray, and Jackson, and David Laird, a farmer and financier, in establishing Todd, Kitson, and Laird at the Railway foundry in Leeds, manufacturers of machinery and locomotives.

In 1838 six locomotives were built for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. In 1839 Kitson and Laird withdrew from this partnership and established the Airedale foundry, also in Leeds, whose first locomotives were built for the North Midland Railway in 1840. David Laird withdrew in 1842 and the firm was reconstituted as Kitson, Thompson, and Hewitson. Large numbers of locomotives were built for home and overseas railways. Among these was the 0–6–0 type (1849) with inside cylinders and frames, for the Leeds and Thirsk Railway, a design which established the standard for freight locomotives in Britain over many decades. The first export locomotives (for the Orléans–Bordeaux railway) were built in 1846, followed by those for the Kiel–Altona line in 1848, and many more for India, Australia, South Africa, South America, and elsewhere.

Kitson's great organizing ability, technical ingenuity, and grasp of industrial developments formed the mainspring of these activities. In 1854 he felt it desirable to acquire a source of good Yorkshire iron for the Airedale foundry and established the Monk Bridge ironworks nearby, which was managed by his sons Frederick William and James Kitson (later first Baron Airedale), the former having previously been principal locomotive designer at Airedale. After the retirement of Isaac Thompson in 1858 and the death of William Hewitson in 1863 the Kitson family took complete control of the firm, and later James Kitson, junior, and the third son, John Hawthorn, who managed the Airedale foundry from 1863, became partners with their father.

According to Lowe the firm began by manufacturing locomotive components. The famous 0-4-2 locomotive Lion, which is still extant, was part of an early order placed by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for six locomotives. Kitsons did not build large numbers of industrial tank locomotives. The first was probably a 0-6-0T for Guest Keen & Nettlefolds named Samson, WN 701/1859. Some 0-8-0STs were built for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway in 1865-6. with inside cylinders 18in x 24in and 4 ft diameter wheels. They were used for banking, and twenty were built. In 1867 the firm exhbited a 5ft 6in 2-4-0 (WN 1423/1867) at the Paris Exhibition of 1867: it was subsequently purchase by the LBSCR which gave it the number 248..

Kitsons had a large share of Kirtley's Midland Railway double frame goods, the first order being completed in 1866. Besides India, Kitsons had important contracts with Russia. Fifteen 2-4-0s were built in 1869-71, with outside cylinders 16in x 24in and 5ft 6in driving wheels, for the Tamboff and Saratoff Railway followed by five slightly smaller ones of the same type for the Novotorjock Railway. In 1870 some 0-6-0s were built, eight for the Moscow-Riazan Railway, fifteen for the Grande Société de Russe, and twelve for the Brest Litovsk and Smolensk. Other orders were: 1871-2 ten 0-4-0ST Voronezh-Rostov; 1872 eighteen 2-4-0 Odessa; and 1872 six 0-6-0 Yaroslav & Vologna.

Orders from abroad were kept the works extremely busy during this period and, besides the above, locomotives were being sent to Germany, Ceylon, Argentine, Denmark, Australia, Japan, Spain, South Africa, Trinidad, India and Mauritius. At the same time many orders from home railways were sandwiched in between.

Kitsons entered the steam tramway locomotive field in 1876 building some combined steam cars to W.R. Rowan's design. In 1878 they built three to their own design with vertical boilers, four coupled wheels and inclined outside cylinders. Motion was by means of a modified version of Walschaerts valve gear. All was enclosed in bodywork and the wheels and motions were surrounded by protective plates. The condensing system was placed on the roof and consisted of a series of copper tubes through which the exhaust steam passed, the surround ing air cooling the steam and the condensate returning to the feed water tank. After many trials it was decided to replace the vertical boiler by a horizontal type and this was standardised for future steam trains. Various types of condensers were tried and the final type was a series of arched transverse tubes which were a great improvement.

In Kitson's patent valve-gear, a modification of Wa1schaert's va1ve gear, the ends of a floating 1ever are 1inked to the crosshead, the va1ve-spind1e, and intermediate1y at a point near the va1ve-spind1e; the 1ever is pinned to the radius-1ink, which receives its rocking movement through an arm linked to the coup1ing rod. The motion of the va1ve and its spind1e is a compound of two movements: one a movement directly the inverse of that of the piston, on a reduced sca1e, for the 1ead; the other a reduced duplicate of the vertica1 movement of the coupling rod, to open the port for steam" (D. K. Clark Tramways, their construction and working, 2nd Ed., 1894). Whitcombe below.

More than 300 units were built and besides supplying many to the tramway systems of the British Isles, others were sent to New Zealand. Australia and the continent. The last one built was in 1901 for the Portstewart Tramway (Works No. T302). Work numbers for tram locomotives were kept separate and bore a prefix T. Lowe and Whitcombe, H.A. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1937, 27, 327 (Paper 369)

An interesting order from the Great Eastern Railway was for ten 4-2-2s In 1881-2. All wheels had inside frames, the outside cylinders were 18in x 24in and the driving wheels 7ft 6in diameter which were the largest wheels ever used on the GER. The locomotives were designed by Massey Bromley. An unusual feature was the bogie which had large wheels.. The crosshead was of the single slide bar type. They were short-lived being broken up in the 1890s.

A large order for 4-6-0s was fulfilled in 1889-91 for the Cordoba Railway in the Argentine. They had 16in x 22in cylinders and 4 ft diameter coupled wheels. Five were lost at sea and replacements had to be built.

In 1894 three Meyer 0-6-6-0 locomotives were built for the Anglo-Chilean Nitrate and Railway Company, with four outside cylindere 14in x 18in and 2ft 10¾ diameter wheels. A Kitson-Meyer articulated type was designed similar to the Meyer, but with the cylinders each facing the centre and the tank carried on the framing instead of on the bogies Two were built in 1903 for the Rhodesian Railways. They were 0-6-6-0, with 15in x 23in  cylinders and 3ft 6¾in diameter wheels. In 1904 three with the same wheel arrangement were built for the Jamaica Government Railways, Over fifty Kitson-Meyer locomotives wer built including two for the Great Southern Railway of Spain which were 2-8-8-0 with 4 ft wheels. It was estimated these locomotives could haul 449 tons at 10 mph up a gradient of 1 in 50. Most of type of locomotive were built from 1903 to 1913 and the last two were sent to the Girardot Railway in 1935, these being 2-8-8-2s. Lowe considered that the notion of articulation may have come from the construction of steam tenders for the GNR when Sturrock was in charge..

Some special Kitson-Meyer 0-8-6-0s were built for the Argentine Trans-Andine Railway. These were metre gauge, for rack and adhesion: there were four cylinders for the normal adhesion working and two for rack.

The firm was involved with Everard Calthrop's 2ft 6in gauge Barsi Light Railway in India and supplied 0-8-4T and 4-8-4T locomotives whilst Leeds Forge supplied the rolling stock. An exhibition was arranged of Calthrop's system at Newlay in Leeds in 1897: Rutherford, Backtrack, 2007, 21, 437.

Steam rail motor units were constructed for the Belfast & County Down Railway, one for the South Australian Government Railway, six for the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, two for Madras and one for the Central South African Railway. The Kitson-Still locomotive was an interesting attempt to be build a combined cycle (internal combustion and steam) locomotive. The last substantial order was for twelve D11/2 for the LNER for use in Scotland. Less than 100 locomotives were built between 1925 and 1938 when the firm failed. The overall output was between 5500 (Lowe) and 6000 locomotives (Carpenter).

Clark, E.F. Kitsons of Leeds. Rly Wld, 1984, 45, 6-9.
Clark, E.F. A very special family birthday. Rly Mag., 1989, 135, 292-6.
Contains a "family tree" of the relationships between the various locomotive manufacturers and their works in the Leeds area. author was related to the founder of the firm: James Kitson (the article includes a portrait of him). James Kitson had been influenced to enter locomotive manufacture by reading Nicholas Wood's Treatise on railways. The original engineering expertise was provided by Charles Todd. Notes that R.C. Parsons, elder brother of Charles Parsons, was a Partner in the firm and that Charles Parsons worked in the Airedale Foundry on two projects: his rocket torpedo engines and his epicycloidal high-speed steam engines. Notes on the Kitson-Meyer and Kitson-Still types and how the firm failed to take on Garratt's ideas yet built two in 1938 for the Surrey Border & Camberley Miniature Railway (10¼ gauge).
Duffy, M.C. The Still engine and railway traction. Trans. Newcomen Soc.,1987/88, 59, 31-53. Disc.: 53-9..
D.R. Carling (53-4) had seen the Kitson-Still locomotive under construction whilst he was at Kitson's and observed the lack of finance for the project. G.W. Carpenter (55) noted that the specific gravity of the fuel was 0.95 and that extensive trials had been conducted under Gresley's authority, E.F. Clark (55-9) noted that E. Kitson Clark had been his grandfather (who had been a Member of the Newcomen Society) and gave a concise history of the company which had been founded by James Kitson.
Hunt, David. Locomotive builders to the Midland Railway. Midland Record, (21), 111-26.
Kitson was a significant supplier mainly of early Midland Railway locomotives: Hunt did not cite his sources.
Johnston, Norman. Locomotives of the GNRI. Colourpoint, 1999.
Notes that Kitson, Thompson, Hewitson supplied Bridges Adams-type light locomotives to the Londonderry & Enniskillen Railway in 1852.
Kitson Clark, E. Kitsons of Leeds 1837-1937. Locomotive Publishing Co, 1938, l85p.
Rolt, L.T.C. A Hunslet hundred: one hundred years of locomotive building by the Hunslet Engine Company. 1964.
Rutherford, Michael. What's in a name? Kitson's of Leeds (Railway reflections [No. 38]). Baccktrack, 1998, 12. 97-103.
The firm produced 5,400 locomotives over 101 years, and could trace its origins back to James Kitson and Charles Todd to supply locomotive components in 1836. illus.: An early Kirtly Midland Railway 0-6-0 no 421; LYR no 865 Prince of Wales; demonstrator Tasmania which was purchased by the Victoria State Railway, Australia; 0-4-0 shunter no 196 purchased by the Buenos Ayres Great Southern Railway; A steam tram on the Port Stewart tramway; Kitson railcar on the Belfast and County Down railway (BCDR); small light locomotive on the Cork and Muskerry light railway; Kitson loco designed for the Barsi Light railway; Kitson-Meyer as modified by the CME, P.C. Dewhurst, of the Jamaican Government Railway; one of three Kitson specials made to work the Pwllyrhebog Incline; A Lambton Railway 0-6-2T no 29 now working on the North Yorkshire Moors; An Airedale Foundry made Atlantic for the LBSCR.

Individual locomotives

The only "single" engine on the Waterford, Limerick and Western Railway. Rly Mag., 1900, 7, 547.
Kitson 2-2-2 which had been exhibited at the Dublin International Exhibition in 1865. It had 6ft driving wheels and 15 x 22in cylinders.


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