He was the younger son of James Kitson, a locomotive manufacturer in Leeds. He went to school in Wakefield and studied chemistry and natural sciences at University College London. With his elder brother, Frederick, he developed an iron foundry into a large company, Monkbridge iron and steel works. This gave him the time, money and influence to pursue other interests including politics, becoming President of the Leeds Liberal Association, and running the election campaign for William Gladstone. He became an MP himself in 1892, continuing to 1907, supporting education, Irish home rule, and old age pensions. He was a member of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He supported local education, notably the Mechanics Institute and the Yorkshire College which was the forerunner of the University of Leeds. The University awarded him an honorary doctorate (DSc) in 1904. He was also the first Lord Mayor of Leeds (1896 and 1897).
He was created 1st Baronet Kitson on 28 August 1886, and created 1st Baron Airedale, of Gledhow (where he had a mansion house), on 17 July 1907. He died in Paris on 16 March 1911, and was brought to Leeds for a funeral and burial at Roundhay.
He married (2) Mary Laura Smith, on 1 June 1881. They had one child.