Kitson and Company was a locomotive and traction engine manufacturer based in Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

Early historyEdit


Kitson 0-6-0 "Austin I" built in 1932

The company started as James Kitson at the Airedale Foundry, off Pearson Street, Hunslet in 1835 with Charles Todd as a partner. Todd had been apprenticed to Matthew Murray at the Round Foundry in Holbeck, Leeds.

Initially it made parts for other builders, until it was joined in 1838 by David Laird, a wealthy farmer who was looking for investments, the company becoming Todd, Kitson and Laird. This year saw the production of the company's first complete engines, either for the North Midland or the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

However, Todd left almost immediately to form Shepherd and Todd and the company was known variously as Kitson and Laird or Laird and Kitson.

The order for six engines by the Liverpool and Manchester began with 0-4-2 Lion,, which still exists. Around 1860, it was withdrawn from service and sold to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, where it was jacked-up off its wheels and used for pumping water. In 1930 it was restored and remains in preservation at the Museum of Liverpool.

Kitson & Hewitson (half scale) ploughing engine IMG 4990

1/2 size model of a Kitson & Hewitson cable ploughing engine

In 1842, Laird, not receiving the financial return he expected, left the partnership. Kitson was then joined by Isaac Thompson and William Hewitson, the company becoming Kitson Thompson and Hewitson. In 1851 the company exhibited an early tank locomotive at The Great Exhibition, and were awarded a gold medal.[1] In 1858 Thompson left and it became Kitson and Hewitson, then finally Kitson and Company in 1863 when Hewitson died.

The company built about 5,400 locomotives over a period of 101 years, with orders for British railways including the Midland Railway, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the South Eastern Railway, and worldwide. From 1855 many Indian railways became major customers.[2]

From 1866 Kitson's produced a large proportion of the Midland Railway double-framed goods engines designed by Matthew Kirtley and from 1869 began building a series of engines for Russia. At some time prior to 1884 the factory employed Charles Algernon Parsons OM KCB FRS (13 June 1854 – 11 February 1931) who was engaged in building rocket powered torpedoes. The brilliant Mr Parsons went on, after leaving Kitsons, to invent the Steam Turbine and change the world forever. In 1886 Kitson's assisted its representative Mr E.Jeffreys in the preparation of five designs for the Victorian Railways (Australia), each with standardised components interchangeable between the classes. Manufacture of these locomotives was by Colonial builders, except for two examples built at Kitson's Airedale Foundry, Leeds and exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition held in the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, for which they received the First Order of Merit in the English Court. These were a large 0-6-0 and a suburban 2-4-2T.[3] The Kitson's designs influenced the Victorian Railways for many years. Kitson built a large order of 4-6-0s for the Cordoba Railway in Argentina during 1889-91, which were among the earliest British examples of this type.[2]

From 1876 to 1901 they also built over 300 steam tram engines and steam railmotor units. These were developed from W.R.Rowan's design.[2][4][5] The company also built a number of steam cable ploughing engines.


An innovation was the articulated locomotive design proposed by Robert Stirling based on the Meyer locomotive, later known as the Kitson-Meyer. The first three were built in 1894 for the Anglo-Chilian Nitrate & Railway Company in Chile, with two in 1903 for Rhodesia and three in 1904 for Jamaica. Over 50 were built, some 2-8-8-0 and 2-8-8-2, the last being in 1935. There were also some 0-8-6-0s designed for rack railway working in the Andes, two examples of which survive in Chile, and one in Argentina.[6][7]

Later History and ClosureEdit

Kitsons were busy during World War I but trade dropped off in the 1920s. The experimental Kitson-Still 2-6-2T steam diesel hybrid locomotive, combining steam power with internal combustion, was tested on the London and North Eastern Railway between York and Hull. This hauled revenue-earning trains for the LNER but Kitson's could not afford to develop it into a commercially viable form. The high research and development costs contributed to the demise of eventual Kitson's.

In 1922 Kitsons built the six K class 2-8-4T locomotives for Palestine Railways to work the steep gradients between Lydda and Jerusalem.[8] Kitson's last large order in 1924 was for 12 London and North Eastern Railway Improved Director class locomotives. In 1934 the receivers were called in and the company struggled on under receivership until 1937.

In 1937 the firm were restructured to bring it out of receivership.[9] The downsized company ceased locomotive production in 1938. The patterns, drawings and goodwill of Kitson's locomotive building business were acquired by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns. Kitsons continued to supply locomotive components until 1945 when the remaining business and works was sold to J&H McLaren & Co[10][11]

There is/was a later company called Kitsons that supplied indutrial insulation products. (It is not known if it is related to this company.)


  • Lowe, J.W., (1989) British Steam Locomotive Builders, Guild Publishing
  • Binns, Donald (2003) Kitson Meyer Articulated Locomotives Trackside Publications, Skipton, UK.
  • Pease, John (2003) The History of J. & H. McLaren of Leeds: Steam & Diesel Engine Makers Landmark Collector's Library


  1. "Prize lists of the Great Exhibition" (16 October 1851). 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Kitsons of Leeds: locomotive builders". (2008-01-03). Retrieved on 2010-03-31.
  3. Norman Cave, John Buckland, David Beardsell.(2002)Steam Locomotives of the Victorian Railways: Vol.1: The First Fifty Years Australian Railways Historical Society, Melbourne, Vic ISBN 187667384 p128
  4. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, February, 1962 pp. 26-29
  5. "Tramway Historical Society". Retrieved on 2010-03-31.
  6. "Santiago Railway Museum Chile - Museo Ferroviario de Santiago Chile". (2006-11-19). Retrieved on 2010-03-31.
  7. "Kitson-Meyer". Kitson-Meyer. Retrieved on 2010-03-31.
  8. Cotterell, Paul (1984). The Railways of Palestine and Israel. Tourret Publishing, 48. ISBN 0-905878-04-3. 
  9. Railway Gazette, July 25th 1937
  10. The History of J. & H. McLaren of Leeds: Steam & Diesel Engine Makers, John Pease, ISBN 1-84306-105-8
  11. page about Kitson & Co

External linksEdit

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