Hunslet – the Engine Building NeighbourhoodAll | Kitson | John Fowler | Shepherd Todd/EB Wilson | Manning Wardle | Hunslet | Hudswell Clarke | Mann | McLaren | Yorkshire
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Kitson’s Airedale Foundry The Kitson & Laird partnership didn’t last much longer and in 1842 Laird left and James Kitson formed a new partnership with Isaac Thompson, and William Watson Hewitson to form Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson. The company just became known as Kitson & Co in 1863 following the death of Hewitson and with Thompson having retired in 1858.
Kitsons produced around 5500 locomotives in the Airedale Foundry until 1938. The site was then acquired by J&H McLaren who had previously built traction engines in the nearby Midland Engine Works and were at the time building the increasingly popular diesel engines. Many of the diesel engines made by McLarens were fitted to locomotives including a number of those built by local firms. Renamed the Airedale Works the site produced diesel engines until 1959 when J&H McLaren’s then parent company Hawker Sidley closed the outdated factory in a streamlining exercise.
One part of the McLaren operation involved in specialist welding remained until 1965 as McLaren Fabrications in Kitson’s former M shop and a building known as the California Shop, this was the former V Shop of Kitson’s works. Amongst the fabrication work carried out here were parts for the class 31 diesels being built by Brush, another Hawker Sidley company. Brush survive to this day, the last builder of mainline locomotives in this country. Of the former Kitson works one building survives, the former California Shop of McLarens and V shop of Kitsons. This building can be seen on the corner of Ivory Street and Leathley Road and is now known as California house, though the building has been modified a great deal.
The former Kitson V Shop and McLaren California Shop
To give an idea of the problems associated with having so many engineering companies located in a relatively small area it is worth remembering this story. The Forge at Fowler’s was situated adjacent to McLaren’s M shop in the Airedale Works that had previously been a part of Kitson’s works. Some precision machining took place in the M shop and many pieces of work were ruined as the ground shuddered when Fowler’s used their large drop hammer. To resolve these problems Fowler’s had to phone McLaren’s to warn them when they were going to use the drop hammers.
Another small part of the Kitson works to survive is this stretch of perimeter wall at what is now the back of Costco’s car park. This wall would have had been the edge of a courtyard an Fowler's works and had a row of lean to buildings on the other side in Kitson's works.
Picture of wall at the edge of Kitson’s works
A building built in the 1950s as McLaren’s service department also survives on Kitson Street.
Bibliography Several books have been published about the Leeds engine building industry, a list is displayed in the Links and Further Reading section.
External Website Links steamindex.com:
This site features a comprehensive list of loco manufacturers and includes greater detail about the history of the local firms
Hunslet Remembered's section about the locomotive building industry and about steam road vehicle manufacture
The current Hunslet Engine Company website
This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 20 June 2021
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