Leslie Cope Cornford (1867-1927) was primarily a journalist and short story writer. He was a regular contributor to the Pall Mall, Longman’s and other monthly magazines of the Edwardian period. He had no particular interest shipping, but was commissioned as a well- known journalist to research and write the company history.
The General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC), incorporated in 1824, was London’s foremost short sea shipping line for almost 150 years, and the oldest shipping company in the world to begin business with steamships. Amongst the founders were Thomas and John Brocklebank, who had timber and shipyard interests in Deptford. Their first steamer, the James Watt inaugurated a London to Leith service in the same year, while Brocklebank’s Thames Paddle Steamer, Eagle provided a service between London and Margate.
In June 1824 the company was formally founded by an enlarged group of business people, now including Edward Banks and William Jolliffe (brother of Hylton Jollife, MP), and described as a “shrewd, solid and resolute set of men”, and eventually incorporated by private Acts of Parliament in 1831. By 1825 it was operating a fleet of 15 Deptford-built steamers, maintained from a yard at the Stowage, Deptford (a former East India Co. depot).
The GSNC experimented with services to Lisbon, Portugal and to Gibraltar, and even to Africa and the Americas, but specialised in links with ports in Britain and northwest Europe. It also provided pleasure cruises between London and resorts lower down the Thames. The purchase of the New Medway Steam Packet Co. in 1936 gave it a monopoly of this business.
P&O bought a controlling stake in 1920, but retained the GSNC identity.
“A CENTURY OF SEA TRADING” covers the first hundred years of the company’s history.
The eventful 24 years from1924 to 1948, are covered in: