Kitson & Company


Kitson and Company was formed in 1863 but the history of the organisation goes back to 1835 when James Kitson and Charles Todd formed a partnership at the Airdale Foundry in Hunslet. 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.

In 1838 David Laird joined the organisation and the company became Todd, Kidson and Laird. This resulted in the firm starting to produce complete locomotives rather than supplying parts to other organisations.

The first locomotives produced by Todd, Kitson & Laird were Lion (now preserved) and Tiger which were supplied to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

Todd left the organisation soon after the reorganisation to form Shepherd and Todd resulting in the company becoming Kitson and Laird. The first orders for Laird, Kitson & Co. were two locomotives for the North Midland Railway in 1840.

In 1842 Laird left the partnership as he was not getting the financial returns he had hoped for. The organisation was joined at this time by Isaac Thompson and William Hewitson to become Kitson, Thmpson and Hewitson. In 1851 the company exhibited an early tank locomotive at The Great Exhibition, and was awarded a gold medal.

In 1858 Thompson left and the firm became Kitson and Hewitson, then, finally, Kitson and Company in 1863 when Hewitson died.

From 1855 many Indian railways became major customers.

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.

By 1871 the company was employing 900 people.

In 1881 Charles Algernon Parsons  joined the company and worked there until 1883. During this period he patented four-cylinder high-speed epicycloidal steam engines. After leaving Kitsons, the brilliant Parsons went on to invent the Steam Turbine and change the world forever.

In 1886 Kitson’s assisted its representative E. Jeffreys in the preparation of five designs for the Victorian Railways (Australia), each with standardised components which were interchangeable between the classes. Most of the locomotives that were built to these designs were manufactured in Australia but two were constructed at the Airedale Foundry in Hunslet. The Kitson 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.

From 1876 to 1901 the firm also built over 300 steam tram engines and steam railmotor units, which were developed from a design by W.R.Rowan.

In 1894 the firm built three locomotives for the Anglo-Chilian Nitrate & Railway Company in Chile which were articulated locomotives based on designs proposed by Robert Stirling based on Meyer locomotives. In 1903 another two were supplied to Rhodesia and three the following year 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.

As with other locomotive builders the firm was busy during the First World War but business reduced significantly in the 1920s.

An 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 Kitson’s.

Kitson built the six K class 2-8-4T locomotives in 1922 for Palestine Railways to work the steep gradients between Lydda and Jerusalem.

The last large order which Kitson fulfilled in 1924 was for 12 London and North Eastern Railway Improved Director class locomotives.

After the closure of Manning Wardle in 1926, the company’s drawings, designs, equipment and customers were acquired by Kitsons who made twenty three locomotives of Manning Wardle designs.

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 but the resulting smaller company ceased locomotive production the following year.

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.

Preserved Locomotives

I have only included standard gauge locomotives which are preserved in Britain. 

The oldest preserved steam locomotive built by Todd, Kitson & Laird is Lion which was built in 1838 for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

Locomotive 1338 built for the Cardiff Railway by Kitson and Company in 1898 has been preserved.

Kitson built locomotives for the Taff Valley Railway to the same design as the two that have been preserved.

  • 450 (TV28) TVR class 01    0-6-2T   Taff Vale Railway
  • 426 (TV85)   TVR class 02    0-6-2T   Taff Vale Railway 

NER Class 66  Aerolite   2-2-4T which was built by Kitson, Thompson & Heitson in 1851 but as a 2-2-2WT locomotive. It is now part of the National Collection.

Kitson built a number of the O4 class  2-8-0  GCR & ROD locomotives in 1912 and 1918. 63601 has been preserved and is part of the National Collection. but it was constructed at Gorton Works.

Kitson built 62671-62682 of the D11 class GCR known as the Large Directors. 62660 Butler Henderson which has been preserved and forms part of the National Collection was built at Gorton Works.

Kitson supplied parts for a number of main line steam locomotives which included

There are two new build projects of locomotive designs that have associations with earlier Kitson and Company locomotives.

Works No


Name Type


2509 1883 A No 5 0-6-0PT Stephenson Railway Museum
4263 1904 Lambton Colliery 29 0-6-2T North Yorkshire Moors Railway
5459 1932 Austin 1 0-6-0ST Llangollen Railway
5469 1933 44  Conway 0-6-0ST Middleton Railway
5470 1933 45  Colwyn 0-6-0ST Northampton & Lamport Railway
5474 1934 47  Carnarvon 0-6-0ST South Devon Railway

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