Court Line was founded in London by 25-year-old Philip Edward Haldinstein in 1905 with a capital of £30,000 and traded from 1 Leadenhall Street as Haldinstein & Co. Ltd. The family came from Norwich but had a German-sounding name which became a problem during WW1 so, in 1915, Haldinstein shortened his name to Haldin by Royal Licence.
Haldinstein built up a fleet of tramp ships starting with the first Arlington Court of 1905; Captain S.H. Jones was the Master for her maiden voyage. All Court Line ships were named after famous country houses with the first word ending in 'ton' and the suffix 'Court'. The ships names made up an alphabetical sequence which was restarted after WW2. Most purchased ships were renamed to fit in with the sequence apart from Lorca and Marsa – whose names were retained. A new naming standard using the prefix 'Halcyon' was introduced when the company moved into tankers in the 1960s.
The size of the Court Line fleet changed over the years as a result of changing trading conditions and the impact of wars. Improvement in freight rates after 1908 led to more ships being ordered. Casualties in WW1 were relatively light. Of the nine tramps in the fleet at the beginning of WW1, Barrington Court (1906) – by then named Margam Abbey - was torpedoed and beached, and Ilvington Court was sunk by a torpedo. Other ships were damaged but repaired.
The fleet reduced to four tramps during the early 1920s due to adverse trading conditions. In 1926 the entire fleet of 26 tramps was registered under the United British Steamship Co. Ltd., (apart from Framlington Court that was owned by a syndicate). The fleet expanded again towards the end of the decade with the purchase of both new and used ships – notably three ships from the company of Evans Thomas Ratcliffe of Cardiff who had died in 1926. A further new 11 tramps were built between 1928 and 1930. Three of them were motorships and the others steam powered. At the end of 1929, Richard Philipps joined the company which then became Haldin and Philipps Ltd., and these gentlemen remained managers until 1948. At this time, Philipps (by then Lord Milford) retired and the company reverted to Haldin & Co. Ltd. (Incidentally Philipps was the youngest brother of Lord Kylsant of Royal Mail Line notoriety.)
Court Line found itself in possession of a large fleet just as the 1930s depression was getting underway and as a result a large part of the fleet was laid up for many years – some on the Tyne, some at Sunderland and some at Milford Haven. The company managed to keep going by mothballing most of its ships and kept its head above water through trading with four or five ships at a time.
Philip Haldin served on the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Committee between 1935 and 1937 and was knighted in 1939. He gave valuable service throughout WW2 to the Ministry of War Transport. During WW2, Court Line ships played a significant role in the convoys that kept the UK going. Also Dorington Court (1938) became the model for the "Empire Ship" building programme and later for the "Ocean" and "Liberty" ships. By the end of WW2 there were only nine surviving Court Line ships.
At the end of WW2, losses were made good on a temporary basis through the purchase of a number of "Empire" and other used ships. A new building programme started in 1952 with the purchase of seven new motor tramps and the old "Empires" were then sold off. Unfortunately freight rates dropped again in 1957 and stayed depressed until the mid 1960s. Court Line had an option for two further vessels in 1962/3 but these were not taken up. By the 1960s, the company's ship-owning activity was declining. A bulk carrier called Hector Halcyon was purchased in 1961 and renamed Cressington Court (1961). There was then a switch to larger ships and the smaller tramps sold off. Court Line also moved into tankers with a number being purchased and given the hallmark 'Halcyon' prefix.
In the 1970s the company diversified into airlines, shipbuilding, ship repairing and package holidays but this led to a cash-flow problem and the company went into liquidation in 1974.