The Leeds building construction firm of William Airey & Son was founded by William Airey (born on 29 June l843; died 27 April 1898). He was described in 1886 as a mason and at his death as a contractor. He attended Woodhouse Carr W.M chapel, Leeds.
His son Sir Edwin Airey (born 1878; died 14 March 1955), was educated at Leeds Central Higher Grade School, and left in 1892 to become an apprentice joiner. Subsequent to his father’s death, he became a partner in the family business in 1903, and took charge of it in 1905. Especially following the General Strike of 1926, the firm engaged in more general construction work, including the Leeds University’s Brotherton Library (1933) and the Queen’s Hotel (1936), having previously built the former Bingley Teacher Training College (1909-11). In 1934 the business was described as ‘builders, engineers and tile manufacturers’ and had grown into a major building enterprise with a growing national, later international, reputation.
By 1915 he was living at Roundhay, Leeds, where he joined Roundhay, Ladywood W.M. church, which has four memorial windows to his daughter. Mrs. Nancy Dawson. During the first World War he was a transport advisor to the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of Health. It was for this and his work in social welfare that he was knighted in 1922. A life-long teetotaller, he was Lord Mayor of Leeds, 1923-4, although not until then a member of the council. During the Second World War the company produced huts for American troops stationed in the UK. This led to the development of concrete slab units which could be quickly assembled into houses to replace those destroyed during the war. Prototypes were put up in Seacroft, Leeds in 1945, followed by hundreds for the London County Council.. A total of 20,000 Airey houses were ordered: they were two storey semi-detached houses, initially to be used as two flats, designed to be converted into single family homes once the post-war housing crisis was over. They were intended to be permanent dwellings rather than temporary ones. For his work in house construction, the Dutch government invested him in 1949 as Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau.
Edwin Airey contributed to sports in Yorkshire in several ways. He was chairman of the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Company, and was responsible for the development of Headingley and its establishment of a major cricketing venue. He was active in the Scout movement. Other offices held included High Sheriff of Yorkshire 1944–1945; Chairman of the Rugby Football League 1951–1952 and Chairman of the Yorkshire Branch of the Institute of Structural Engineers 1944-45.
John Robinson Airey (1868-1936), brother of Sir Edwin, educated at Blenheim Board School and Leeds Central High School, took up a teaching post at the latter while at the same time studying at Yorkshire College for a University of London external B.Sc., awarded in 1894. He was a Mathematics Master at Porth Intermediate School, Glam., until 1903 when age 35, he gave up his job to matriculate at St John's College, Cambridge to study the Natural Science Tripos. He was awarded his B.A. in 1906, with first class honours in both Part I and Part II. The quality of his performance is indicated by the fact the he was awarded the Wright, Hockin and Hughes Prizes. After graduating, Airey was the first Headmaster of Morley Grammar School, 1906-1912, and subsequently Principal of the West Ham Technical Institute 1912-1918, and Principal of the City of Leeds Training College 1918-33. He became a member of the Mathematical Tables Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1911 and was its Secretary 1916-29. He was co-editor of the Philosophical Magazine.
Another member of the family, also Edwin Airey, became a local preacher in 1952 but later left Methodism.