Walter Runciman was born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1847. He ran away to sea at the age of 11 and, by the age of 21, he was a Master Mariner. Runciman bought his first ship in 1885 and four years later founded the South Shields Steam Shipping Company Limited, based in South Shields. By 1895, he had acquired 20 steamers and, two years later, changed his company's name to the Moor Line Ltd and, by 1904, owned 23 steamers, going on to reach 40 by the outbreak of WW1. The company suffered losses during the war and, in 1919, Runciman sold all of the company's 13 remaining ships to Western Counties Shipping Company Limited. That company folded in 1922 and Runciman decided to buy 8 of these ships back at a much reduced cost, also acquiring a controlling interest in the Anchor Line in 1935, which had previously been owned by Cunard. Following his death in 1937, the company changed its name to Runciman Shipping Company Ltd, managed by Walter Runciman and Company Ltd. The two companies merged in 1947 to acquire the latter name. The Anchor Line was sold to Runciman in 1965 and three years later the ownership of the Moor Line was transferred to Anchor Line Shipping Management Ltd., while Runciman Shipping Limited ran day to day operations of the ships. By 1976, Runciman Shipping Limited was one of five divsions of Anchor Line Company Limited, running the administration of the company.
Runciman was created a Baronet in 1906 and served as Liberal MP for Hartlepool from 1914 to 1918. In 1933, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Runciman of Shoreston. Four years later, his son, the long serving MP Walter Runciman (1870 - 1949), followed him to the Lords with the title Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford.