The town of Lochgelly stands immediately to the north of the dual carriageway A92, "East Fife Regional Road" as it heads from the M90 near Dunfermline to Glenrothes. It is one of a series of towns and villages in the area traditionally associated with coal mining, though in Lochgelly's case the local deep mines almost all closed over half a century ago.
Two miles to its south-west is Cowdenbeath, while a similar distance to its north-east is Cardenden, settlements which, to an outsider, appear to have a great deal in common with Lochgelly. Lochgelly can be accessed from either, but the usual approach is along the B9149 from its junction with the A92. This takes you past "The Arches", a gateway sculpture on a roundabout, before you head into the town itself.
Lochgelly has fairly early origins. The name of the town comes from Loch Gelly, a loch under a mile to the south-east of the centre of the town, though now separated from it by the dual carriageway A92. The name of Loch Gelly comes from the Gaelic for "shining loch". If nothing else, this suggests that the first settlement here was on the same side of the loch as today's Lochgelly: as any loch is more likely to be shining when seen in sunshine from the north.
Lochgelly rises to a high point of a little over 500ft at the southern end of the town, and this is sufficient for it to lay claim to be the highest town in Fife. There seems to have been a village called Lochgelly at least as far back as the 1600s. Weaving was an early source of employment, and by 1800 it was a large and locally important settlement. A few decades later quarries were recorded in the area, together with mills on the stream from Loch Gelly to the River Ore.
It isn't clear when coal was first mined in the area: possibly on a small scale as early as the middle ages. In the first few decades of the 1800s coal mining activity increased dramatically, and iron ore was also found in commercial quantities. The railway arrived in 1849, and this marked the start of a period of dramatic expansion for Lochgelly. By 1850 there were many pits in and around the town, and the Lochgelly Iron Company had established an iron works to the south-east, though this did not see out the 1800s after the iron ore ran out.
Deep mined coal remained an important part of the local economy for over a century. In the 1950s there were four pits in or close to Lochgelly: the Nellie Pit at the north end of the town; the Glencraig Pit a little further to the north; the Lumphinnans 1 Pit just to the south-west of Lochgelly; and the Jenny Grey pit on the south-east side of the town. The importance of coal to the local economy can be seen from the figures for peak employment at each of the pits: 202 in 1951 at Lumphinnans 1; 492 in 1950 at Jenny Grey; 508 in 1958 at Nellie; and 1,316 in 1961 at Glencraig.
Lochgelly's pits closed relatively early, with Lumphinnans 1 closing in 1957; Jenny Grey in 1959; Glencraig in 1961 and Nellie in 1965. The immediate impact of these closures was probably not great, as pits continued to operate elsewhere in the Fife coalfield for a few more years, and miners in the Lochgelly pits could probably redeploy in the short term. But when pits like those at Bowhill, two miles west of Lochgelly, which employed nearly 1,500 men at the start of the 1960s, closed in 1968, it would have been increasingly clear that this was the demise of an entire industry and not just the closure of a few pits.
Like other towns in the area, Lochgelly's fortunes suffered in the decades that followed, and the dual carriageway A92, "East Fife Regional Road" was built in the 1970s partly as a means of assisting the regeneration of Fife's mining areas.
Today's Lochgelly has not been a mining town for two generations, and most of the physical signs of the deep mines have long gone from the surrounding landscape (though the same cannot yet be said of the remaining open cast mines). The town itself does, however, carry reminders of the industry which once supported it. Dominating the centre of the town is the fine Lochgelly Miners' Institute, built in 1925. To one end of it is Lochgelly Square. This is home to a larger than life size bronze statue of a miner supporting a stack of six steel columns intended to represent pit props. This is the work of Fife-based sculptor David Annand and was unveiled in 2008. Each prop carries a line of text in Old Scots which together form the poem "God the Miner", written by local poet William Hershaw.