Today's Loanhead is dominated by its proximity to Edinburgh. It isn't quite a southern suburb, but it won't take much more development on the Edinburgh side of the bypass to remove any remaining open land between them. Indeed, most people who visit Loanhead probably don't realise they have done so. On the west side of the town is the huge Straiton retail park, accessed from one of the busier junctions on the Edinburgh bypass.
But if you take the trouble to look beyond the supermarkets and retail outlets, you find that Loanhead itself has a lot of character and a considerable depth of history. The heart of the town is a crossroads at which Fountain Place, the main approach from the north west, meets the High Street. In the town centre is an attractive open area in which you find a modern sculpture comprising a large cog and an even larger horn.
As you come along Fountain Place towards Loanhead it is worth looking out for the Reformed Presbyterian Church on your right. This was built in 1875 and has been converted into offices. A notable local landmark, it is highly unusual in having been built of concrete formed to look like stonework.
In the 1680s coal began to be mined in the area by the local laird, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, and it continued to be mined for three centuries. The success of this early mine provided Sir John with the wealth he needed to commission William Adam to build a new house, Mavisbank, just to the east of Loanhead between 1723 and 1727. Mavisbank is viewed as one of the most important early Georgian houses in the UK, and one of the most important buildings in Scotland. Sadly it stands today as an almost inaccessible ruin.
At the end of WWII there were two working coal mines close to Loanhead. The Ramsay Pit had been working since 1850 and employed around 350 men, and the Burghlee Pit had started operations in the 1860s and employed about 770 men. In 1952 work started on the development of a new "super pit" at Bilston Glen, just to the west of Loanhead, to exploit coal seams 750m underground. Bilston Glen started production in 1963, and two years later both Ramsay and Burghlee pits were closed. The new pit employed around 2,200 men, and 45% of the coal they produced was burned by power stations. It saw considerable conflict during the UK miners' strike of 1984-5, and was closed as uneconomical in 1989.
Today the main reminder of the town's past dependence on coal is a black marble monument standing near the sculptures in the town centre. This commemorates the fifteen men killed in accidents at Bilston Glen Colliery between 1957, when the pit was still being developed, and 1986. As the monument notes, this is "the true price of coal".
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