Neilson, John (1778-1839) (DNB00)

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NEILSON, JOHN (1778–1839), benefactor of Paisley, born in Paisley on 14 Dec. 1778, was the younger son of John Neilson, grocer in Paisley, and Elizabeth Sclatter, his wife. John entered his father's business, and before 1812 became, with his elder brother James, a partner in the firm, which was then styled John Neilson and Sons. James died on 12 Nov. 1831; John, continuing to carry on the business, amassed a considerable fortune, and purchased the lands of Nethercommon, where he died on 6 Nov. 1839. He was buried in the churchyard beside Paisley Abbey. A tombstone was erected to his memory and to that of his brother. He was a man of reserved habits, and entirely given up to business. By his deed of settlement he set apart a sum of 17,187l. ‘to form and endow for the educating, clothing, and outfitting, and, if need be, the maintaining of boys who have resided within the parliamentary boundary of Paisley for at least three years, whose parents have died either without leaving sufficient funds for that purpose, or who from misfortune have been reduced, or who from the want of means are unable to give a suitable education to their children.’ Although the trustees were required to feu or purchase a piece of ground in Paisley for the erection of an institution at any time within five years, yet they were forbidden to commence building till after the expiry of that time. As a site for the building the trustees secured the town's bowling-green, the most conspicuous situation in Paisley, formerly the prætorium of a Roman camp. On this they erected a building which forms one of the chief architectural adornments of the town. The John Neilson Institution is now one of the best schools in the west of Scotland. There have been nearly nine hundred pupils educated as foundationers. The attendance at the opening of the institution in 1852 was about five hundred; it is now over nine hundred. The trustees are invested with ‘the most ample and unlimited powers,’ the only restriction being that ‘the education shall be based on the scriptures.’ The school was incorporated in 1889 in a scheme made by the commissioners under the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Act, 1882.

[rown's History of Paisley, ii. 324–8; Reports of the Neilson Institution; Hector's Vanduara.]

G. S-h.