Livingston is the second biggest settlement in the Lothians after Edinburgh, the seventh biggest in Scotland, and has a population larger than Perth, Stirling or Inverness. Not bad for somewhere that until 1962 was open farmland surrounding a fairly ancient village on the road from Edinburgh to Glasgow.
After over 50 years of spectacular growth, what was once "Livingston New Town" has for some time just been known as Livingston. Livingston was the fourth of the Scottish new towns created to help accommodate overspill from Glasgow's densely populated city centre in the years following the Second World War, and by many measures it has been the most successful of them. Today's Livingston covers some ten square miles of the River Almond valley to the south of the line of the M8 motorway, and has a population that in 2008 was estimated to be 54,740.
The key factor in Livingston's success has been its location. Lying just 15 miles west of Edinburgh it has benefitted from the capital's spectacular economic success in recent years. The result has been a boom in house building accompanied by high levels of investment in shopping and other services in the town. And while the downturn in the worldwide electronics industry has in recent times taken the gloss off its reputation as the "Capital of Silicon Glen", wider growth has continued apace.
At the heart of the town is its shopping centre. Parts of this date back to 1974, but it has grown steadily since. Recent additions include the Livingston designer outlet at one end of the centre and Europe's largest shop, the massive Asda Walmart store at the other. In late 2008 a major new expansion opened, complete with a range of well known high street shops. At the same time Livingston's shopping centre was rebranded as "The Centre".
Other recent developments include the new West Lothian College. This lies close to the slightly longer established St Margaret's Academy, built in 1994 and the latest of a number of secondary schools serving Livingston and the surrounding area.
And between the college and the academy is the home of a more famous incomer. In 1995 the Edinburgh football club Meadowbank Thistle renamed itself Livingston and later moved to a new ground at Almondvale. Its progress though the Scottish leagues since then has been spectacular both for its climbs and for its descents. The most recent new arrival in the town is the attractive building which serves as a headquarters for West Lothian Council and as a police station and courthouse. This was built in what was previously open parkland on the north side of the River Almond close to the town centre. Also in Livingston is the excellent Almond Valley Heritage Centre.
Livingston has been unflatteringly called "roundabout city" and there's certainly no shortage of them. Like anywhere else, it's quite easy to find you way around the town when you know it: but to aid first time visitors and enhance the overall look of the place, five of the most important roundabouts have been given monumental sculptures. See the same one twice and you have indeed been going round in circles.
Not all of Livingston has simply sprung out of the fields since 1962. The name was taken from the existing Livingston Village, one of a number of old settlements which add character to their newer neighbours. Livingston actually dates back to the 1100s when a Flemish entrepreneur called De Leving was granted land in the area. He built a fortified tower, now long gone, and the settlement that grew up around it became known as Levingstoun and, in time, Livingston.
At the core of Livingston village is its Kirk, built in 1732 to replace an earlier chapel dating back to 1150 but destroyed by Cromwell's troops in 1650. Nearby is the Livingston Inn, also dating back to the 1700s. This was built as a coaching inn on the main Edinburgh to Glasgow route, one of a number providing fresh horses for the coaches and refreshments for the passengers. By 1780 these enabled the "Edinburgh to Glasgow Flyer" to complete the 50 mile journey between the two cities in a little over 24 hours!
Another of the town's older buildings has returned from the brink of dereliction in recent years. Howden House has been restored to residential use, which is particularly important as it dominates the approach to the fine Howden Park Centre. The story remains much less happy for the extensive derelict site at Bangour Village Hospital, on the north side of Livingston.
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