Walter Runciman was the only son of Baron Walter Runciman of Shoreston (1847-1937) and Anne Lawson. He was born in South Shields, County Durham on 19 November 1870. He was educated at South Shields High School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he gained a third class in the history tripos of 1892. After leaving Cambridge he joined his father’s shipping business, but soon became involved in politics and he unsuccessfully contested the Gravesend seat as a Liberal candidate in 1898. In 1899 he won a seat for the Liberals in Oldham, but lost the seat in 1900 to Winston Churchill.
By 1902 however he became MP for Dewsbury and mainly remained in politics for the rest of his life, until illness in 1937 forced him to retire with the acceptance of a peerage, becoming Viscount Runciman of Doxford; Doxford being the Northumberland estate he had inherited from his father. His political career was great and would have been exceptional if it were not for the set of circumstances that beset the Liberal Party in the early part of the twentieth century.
In 1905 he took on the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board; in 1907 he became Financial Secretary to the Treasury and in 1908 Asquith appointed him President to the Board of Education when the new cabinet was formed. He was later to become the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (1911-14), President of the Board of Trade (1914-16, 1931-37) and an integral part of the Mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938.
In 1916, he resigned along with the majority of Asquith’s government, eventually losing his seat in 1918 and turned his attentions to his business interests. By 1924 he had gained a new seat at Swansea West and switched to St Ives in 1931 retaining this seat until his resignation. His commercial interests were tied up with his father’s businesses in Walter Runciman and Company, as managing director of Moor Line Limited and North Moor Steamships Limited, and he was the director and member of several shipping chambers and associatios.
He married Hilda Stevenson (1869-1956) in 1898, the daughter of James Cochran Stevenson, the MP for South Shields, who became an MP herself for the constituency of St Ives in 1928. The papers also include material relating to Walter Runciman’s father Baron Runciman. A gifted sailor, Runciman became a master mariner in 1871 and sailed in commercial vessels until he set up his own shipping business, Moor Line Limited. Runciman was also chairman of Walter Runciman and Company and took over the Anchor Line Limited, another shipping company, in 1935.
He was at one time president of the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom, the Liberal MP for Hartlepool 1914-1918 and a member of the Tyne Improvement Commission. He was an author of several books on the sea and gave part of the Northumberland coastline to the National Trust. He was created a baronet in 1906 and raised to the peerage as Baron Runciman of Shoreston in 1933.