The beginnings of Anchor Line Ltd can be seen in 1838 when two brothers, Nicol and Robert Handyside, established themselves in Glasgow, Scotland, as shipbrokers and merchants. They used chartered tonnage to trade with the Baltic and Russia. The business operated under the name N & R Handyside & Co, and in 1852 the name Anchor Line was used by them for the first time, but only as a by-line in an advertisement. 

In the same year Thomas Henderson joined the business. The business bought its first ship from the builders in 1854. In June 1855, Thomas Henderson became a full partner and the firm was renamed Handysides & Henderson. This firm became D & W Henderson when shipbuilding commenced. That company went out of business in 1863, and the trade was taken over by the Anchor Line of Peninsular & Mediterranean Steam Packets.

In 1865, the Anchor Line opened its own office in New York under the name Henderson Brothers, and sold tickets through more than three thousand ticket agencies throughout North America. An office was also opened in Londonderry, Ireland. In 1869, Henderson Brothers opened offices at Liverpool, England, and Dundee, Scotland.

A service from Naples, Italy, to New York began. In November 1869, the Suez Canal opened and this made India as important to the Anchor Line as America now that the Far East was 4,000 miles closer. An Anchor vessel made the first British merchant ship journey, southbound through the canal, on the day following the opening.

In 1872, the Anchor Line and D & W Henderson jointly bought the shipyard of Tod & MacGregor, Meadowside, Partick, Glasgow, to build the hulls into which the engines from D & W Henderson’s Finnieston works could be fitted. They opened a Manchester office in 1882.

In 1899, the name Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd came into being by the formation of a limited liability company. The Cunard Steamship Co Ltd bought the whole of the Ordinary shares of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd in 1911.

In 1914 the company owned 13 ships, 7 of which were destroyed in the war. In 1916 a joint venture was set up by Anchor Line and Donaldson Brothers Ltd, another British shipping company, whereby Anchor Donaldson Ltd was incorporated to serve the Clyde–Canada route.

Control passed to Runciman (London) Ltd, and the company was incorporated anew as Anchor Line (1935) Ltd with Lord Runciman as chairman. Anchor Line (1935) Ltd concentrated on New York and Indian services. By 1937 the company name had been changed again to Anchor Line Ltd, although it was still controlled by Runciman (London) Ltd. At the outbreak of World War II, Anchor Line (1935) Ltd had nine ships and one on the stocks. Altogether six of these ten ships were lost. 

In 1960, Anchor Line Ltd and the Cunard Steamship Co Ltd entered an agreement to provide a joint fortnightly London–Le Havre–Glasgow–USA service. In 1965, Moor Line Ltd of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England (managed by Walter Runciman & Co Ltd) acquired Anchor Line Ltd from the United Molasses Co. Viscount Runciman was chairman of both Moor Line Ltd and Anchor Line Ltd. In 1966 Moor Line Ltd purchased the managing company Walter Runciman & Co Ltd and decided to move their administrative offices from Newcastle-on-Tyne, England to Glasgow, Scotland and have the management of the two companies, Moor Line Ltd and Anchor Line Ltd, under one roof.

The University of Glasgow Archive Services hold the records of Anchor Line Ltd which document the history of the company. If you’d like to know more about the collection then please contact them.

To find out more about the collection view the online catalogue.



  • 1838

     The shipping company N&R Handyside & Co was established in and became Handysides & Henderson in 1855.

  • 1856

    The company inaugurated a new mail, cargo and passenger service, the "Anchor Line of Steam Packets" between Glasgow and New York. The Anchor Line shipping company grew from small beginnings in tandem with the River Clyde shipbuilding industry as the Glasgow river was transformed.

  • 1881

    Barrow Shipbuilding Company delivered the Furnessia. At 5,495 tons she was at the time of her launch the biggest ship to have been built in Great Britain. Although owned by the Barrow Steamship Company, she was to all intents and purposes, an Anchor Liner and began her maiden voyage on February 17th 1881 from Glasgow to Molville and New York.

  • 1899

    Handysides & Henderson became the Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers)

  • 1906-7

    Main office -  Built for Henderson Brothers of Anchor Line, hence the nautical emblems, seaweed and shell details, modelled by H H Martyn of Cheltenham. (Historic Scotland) inside several rooms designed with the opulence of an ocean liner - James Miller having also designed interiors for the SS Lusitania.

  • 1914

    SS Transylvania launched - Builder Scotts, Greenock & Grangemouth Dockyard Co. Ltd., Greenock, Scotland

  • 1932

    In a company history written it was observed that: "They give employment to hundreds of dockers, loading and discharging. Each ship carries between four and five hundred crew, nearly all belonging to or resident around Clydeside. The money circulated for stores and other trade accounts runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds in the year. The welfare of some thousands of people depends on the ships."


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We try to recreate every little detail from the times when Anchor Line was the ruler of the seas and a bringer of prosperity to thousands of people in Glasgow.