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The Origins and History

An 18 year old, Thomas Neilson from Thorsk in Scotland, opened a second-hand book shop in 1798 at 7 West Bow, Edinburgh. The shop was located on the corner of the West Bow, where Castle Hill joins the Lawnmarket.

Shortly thereafter Neilson began publishing reprints, mainly of religious texts, an area of printing that would eventually make his fledgling company one of the most dominant global publishing houses. His aim was to allow access to literature for the working man. Along with his reprints of the Bible in affordable instalments, he also issued copies of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe to name but a few.

Thomas Neilson changed his name to Nelson in 1818 and incorporated within his publisher’s logo an image of the West Bow premises.

William Nelson joined his father’s company in 1835 and in 1839 Thomas Nelson Jnr, then 17 years old, also joined and “Thomas Nelson & Son’s” was established.

The company flourished and on leaving the West Bow in 1839, Thomas Snr passed the management of the company to his son’s. Thomas Jnr, opened a London office before returning to Edinburgh and locating in the Hope Park area of Edinburgh in 1845.  The site today is where Buccleuch Street joins Hope Park Crescent.  A prominent south side location, looking onto the east end of the Meadows.

Thomas Jnr, like his father was a philanthropist who ensured his “family” of workers were educated and cared for.

In 1850 Thomas Jnr revolutionised the printing world with his invention of the Rotary Printing Press.

Thomas Nelson Snr died in 1861. When made aware of his impending fate he held a copy of the Bible and said “Now I must finish my chapter”.

During this period of prosperity William Nelson lived at “Salisbury Green”, which was originally built around 1780 then remodeled in 1860-67 for William Nelson. “Salisbury Green” is currently a hotel situated within the grounds of the Pollock Halls at the Dalkeith Road entrance.

Thomas Nelson Jnr resided at St Leonard’s Hall, built in 1869-70. The house is also located within the current Pollock Hall Site at the Holyrood Park Road entrance. The house has over the years since been used as a Red Cross Hospital during World War I. An all girl’s school “St. Trinean’s School for Girls”, from which it is believed, the St.Trinian’s stories originated. And, the HQ for the Home Guard during World War II.

The company suffered a major setback in April 1878 when the Hope Park premises were destroyed by fire. The company carried on in temporary accommodation kindly provided by the Edinburgh City authorities and by 1880 moved to newly built premises at Parkside Terrace. The site of the current Scottish Widows complex.

In acknowledgement of the assistance offered by the city authorities at this time the Nelson brothers presented to the city the landmark pillars that now stand at opposite ends of the Meadows.

William Nelson died in 1887 and five years later Thomas Nelson Jnr died bringing to close the end of a remarkable era.

The company which they had so successfully developed continued to prosper and was managed by George M. Brown (son in law of Thomas Nelson) and John Buchan author of The 39 Steps. The sons of Thomas Nelson Jnr, Tommy and Ian joined the company and continued their fathers work. Tommy Nelson lost his life in battle 1917.

Before, during and after these turbulent war years, and up to closure, the Thomas Nelson and Son’s “family” enjoyed the benefits of their philanthropic founder’s vision. To provide a fair and caring environment, of work and leisure, for all employees. A recreational area was created for the workers known as “The Field” which was on the opposite side of Holyrood Park Road from the print works. Workers had their own sports teams and facilities which included, football, pitch and putt and bowling. The bowling section originating in 1902. In addition, the Nelson Institute Hall was available for get-togethers after work. Hosting dances, concerts and also serving as the daytime canteen. The Institute Hall stands on Dalkeith Road at the foot of Holyrood Park Road.

In 1948 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the company, the Parkside Print Works were visited by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

In 1962 Thomas Nelson and Son’s merged with another renowned publishing firm The Thomson Organisation. The editorial works moved to London whilst the printing and binding arm remained at Parkside.

In 1968 the printing and binding works were sold to Morrison & Gibb and the site and all associated recreational grounds were sold for redevelopment.

Privatisation of what was then the print works Parkside Bowling Club green and clubhouse was realised in 1969.

As a result of the building of the Royal Commonwealth Pool within “The Field”, the old bowling clubhouse was demolished and a new clubhouse built. Furthermore, as a result of the widening of Holyrood Park Road the Bowling Green was reduced by a metre or so closest to the road and extended by the same at the opposite end.

Since privatisation Parkside Bowling Club has continued to prosper and has been fortunate to have had many members, ex print work employees, who recall the earlier years and the pleasure it was to have been associated with Thomas Nelson and Son’s.

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