A.J. Neilson

Archibald Johnston Neilson
31 October 1871, Glasgow - 17 April 1942, Glasgow

Chess Editor of the Falkirk Herald from 1894 to 1942
Member and office-bearer of Glasgow Chess Club
Founder and member of (the second) Falkirk Chess Club

From BCM 1909, August, pages 324-6:

The Falkirk Herald is a respectable and flourishing bi-weekly newspaper, published in the ancient Scottish borough. It appears on Saturdays as a penny paper, and the Wednesday edition, which is published at a halfpenny, possesses among many good features, a remarkably bright chess column, whose conductor (Mr A.J. Neilson) is the subject of this sketch. Though a Glasgow man, Mr Neilson is connected by ties of relationship with the Falkir Herald, which was founded by his grandfather in 1846, and which is still owned and managed by members of the family.

Born in 1871, Mr Neilson joined the Glasgow Chess Club in 1895, and for the last four years has been hon. treasurer to that society. He has often competed for the championship of the club, and though he has not yet won it he has been several times very near the top. He rarely fails to assist Glasgow in club matches, and has in these encounters a very creditable record.

Like so many chess players, Mr Neilson is a musical enthusiast. His tastes in this direction may be said to be classical, as he knows almost by heart Beethoven's nine symphonies, and delights in the works of Wager, Berlioz, Brahms, &c. But the severe study of the works of these masters takes much time, and Mr Neilson, with a touch of pathos, hints that had it not been for music, he might have had that club championship ere now.

Like a certain "Admirable" compatriot of his, our chess editor excels in many matters. His pleasure in classical literature is tempered by a love for things scientific, and, of course, like a good Scotchman, he is by way of being a metaphysician. He is also addicted to such frivolities as cycling and golf, is handy with a rifle, and as he also attend to his business - that of a textile merchant - one may fairly surmise that the seventh deadly sin does not easily beset him.

Mr Neilson started the chess column in the Falkirk Herald in 1894, at which time no chess club existed in that town, an old one having died (from card playing) some years before. Under the stimulus of the column, a numbr of isolated players were brought into communion, and established the Falkirk Chess Club, which to this day is a healthy and active institution. From the first the chess editor has organised competitions, in the way of composing and solving tourneys. He has but recently concluded publication of positions in a four-move tourney. The fact that this has been successfully carried out prepares one to believe that Mr Neilson does not pander to the popular taste for two-movers. The laste Mr James White, of the Leeds Mercury Supplement, used to say to his solvers:- "Those who come to my school must learn the lessons I teach." Mr Neilson's problem lessons are for the most part moderately difficult, and generally include an end-game by some master of that art.

Mate in three moves.

A noticeable feature of the column is the large number of paragraphs on any subjects which appertain to the game - and, truth to tell, on some that do not. Mr Neilson has that excellent virtue in an editor (chess or otherwise) - a keen instinct for things quotable, and is most punctilious in acknowledging his obligations. He is greatly interested in problem composition and solving - as a chess editor should be. He has himself composed about thirty problems, and he mentions, with a mild degree of pride, that none of them have been cooked. From this one may judge that he does not lightly thrust his ideas before the public eye, and as he declines to compose an illustration to order, I am obliged to fall back on a problem which he made in the days when Sheriff Spens was autocrat of the chess column in the Glasgow Weekly Herald.

The chess editor under review is not, as are some of his brethren, severely limited to space, and, as a rule, he cheerfully fills two long columns, occasionally overflowing well down a third. This extension usually occurs when something - perhaps seen in one of his exchanges - has supplied him with a fitting text. Then does he discourse learnedly, loquently, and, withal, humorously to the extent of half or three-quarters of a column, often soaring into realms of poesy and philosophy and leaving, for the time, the poor old chessmen shut up in their box.

In spite of this delight in controversy, this lust for battle, one never meets in this column with a single petulant, acrimonious, or ill-natured word or suggestion.

Wherefore, Mr Neilson, I salute you!

F.P. Wildman

From the BCM of May 1934, page 207:

With the beginning of April the Falkirk Herald chess column celebrates its 40th birthday, under the present editor, A.J. Neilson, who has published a column every week without a single break, since its foundation. We wish to send our heartiest congratulations to the chess-editor, and hope that he will be able to continue for many years to come. It is one of the most ably conducted columns in the north.

From the BCM of June 1934, page 241:

Our thanks are due to the Falkirk Herald for the reproduction of the photograph of A.J. Neilson. As mentioned in our magazine last month, Mr Neilson has completed 40 years' continuous service as chess-editor of the Falkirk Herald, and received congratulations of chess enthusiasts all over the world. We should like to add that in the 15 years of our editorship of the B.C.M. Mr Neilson has frequently helped us to get information we wanted, and we are sure that I.M. Brown, our previous editor, would endorse our thanks to Mr Neilson. he was one of the founders and original members of the present Falkirk Chess Club, and first holder of the championship when this competition was instituted. He is a past president of the Glasgow Chess Club, and served on the management committee of that club for a much longer period than any other member in various offices. he still acts as hon. treasurer, a position which he has held for 29 years.

From the BCM of June 1942, page 142:

With the death on April 17th of Archibald Johnston Neilson at the age of seventy, passes one of our most famous weekly chess editors. His column opened in April, 1894, and has run without a break for 48 years exactly, ending at problem No. 4,851, a helpmate. Few british problemists of the last two generations do not know "A.J." and his delightful 2-3 column weekly discourse in the Falkirk Herald, a complete library of interesting notes, news, and chess. Those who knew him personally suffer a grievous loss, for this genial giant of a man with his jovial laugh and non-stop talk was a prince of friendliness, kindness and hospitality. The last occasion on which I met him was at my brother's wedding in Glasgow in 1940, and he was the life and soul of the party. He was a cultured man - analytical chemist, musical critic, church dignitary, journalist, and lover of chess. All our sympathy goes out to Mrs Neilson in her irreparable loss. - T.R.D. [T.R.D. - T.R. Dawson, Problem Editor of the BCM at the time, and noted problem composer - AMcG]

Additional information:
The Falkirk Herald of 22 April 1942 noted that Mr Neilson died "last week", 70 years of age. Passed away Friday (17 April), found on Monday, 20 April.

Mr Neilson's younger brother, Fred J. Neilson of Shawlands, Glasgow, died just a few months previously, on 15 February, 1942, aged about 58 years of age. His death was caused by catching a chill during fire-watching at night during severe weather.
Falkirk Herald, 25 February, 1942.

Alan McGowan
Historian, Chess Scotland