The town was built on coal and shale mining, and the paper industry. Industry remains but these staples have ended in Loanhead.
It was a tiny village by about 1600, when it was included on a map of the Lothians. It was granted a charter allowing a weekly market and annual fair in 1669. Coal was mined profitably in the area for Sir John Clerk of Penicuik by 1685. The Springfield paper mill, in the valley of the River North Esk to the south of the town, commenced in 1742, while Polton mill followed in 1750. By 1754 Loanhead was a medium-sized village.
The limestone industry was a source of employment by the late eighteenth century, the works being at Burdiehouse, about a mile to the northwest. The coal industry continued to expand and by 1874 the town was linked to the railway. Shale was mined between Loanhead and Burdiehouse in the late nineteenth century, from 1880 under the Clippens Oil Company of Paisley. By this time the population had expanded to 3,250. The town was granted burgh status in 1884. The North British Railway built a steel lattice girder box viaduct across Bilston Glen in 1892, replacing another which had been designed by Thomas Bouch.
The shale mines closed in 1909 because of water flooding the mines from the Edinburgh waterworks aqueducts. Burdiehouse limeworks ceased in 1912, although limestone was mined in the area until 1960. The Polton paper mill closed in 1955.
Coal mining continued, with the large Bilston Glen pit being sunk between 1952 and 1961. It was closed in 1988, and the site cleared. Bilston Glen Colliery at one stage produced 1,000,000 tons of coal a year, and employed 2,300 men. The coal workings stretched from Rosewell to Dalkeith. All coal working ceased in the 1980s, soon after the miners’ strike of 1984–1985. The site is now used as an industrial estate, with businesses including MacSweens haggis factory, and Lothian and Borders Police Communications Centre (The Force Communications Centre, or FCC) where all radio traffic and emergency calls are handled. The Pentlands industrial estate was opened in the 1970s, and a number of retail and other businesses trade from the periphery of the town.
The town today
Loanhead continues to grow, largely due to the influence of the continued development of Straiton Retail Park which includes one of only two IKEA stores north of the Tweed, but also increasingly as a dormitory town for Edinburgh, parts of which are under 20 minutes away. Despite the proximity of large stores such as Sainsbury's, Costco and Homebase, the main street, Clerk Street, is busy with traffic and local shoppers.
Loanhead has a small but well used and appointed leisure centre, a small library and a health centre as well a range of local businesses. A small green square in the centre of the town features a memorial to miners killed in the town's coal mines, and large and popular bronze sculpture known as the Coghorn, by Andrew Burton. A local Palladian mansion, Mavisbank House, built in 1723 but derelict for many years, featured on the BBC television series Restoration in 2004.
A large, modern industrial estate with around 100 different concerns provides a wide range of jobs for local residents. A new park and ride facility, which will provide a high quality bus service into Edinburgh City Centre, opened in 2009. Loanhead is under a mile from the A720 city by-pass.
Loanhead is well known for its annual gala day, also known as "Children's Day". A book to commemorate the 100th Anniversary was published in 2003. Since 2001, an annual weekend music festival, Loanhead Music Festival, has been staged. This increasingly popular event attracts a wide range of mainly acoustic musicians to the town each June, and features around eight venues.
Loanhead Guitar Club is an offshoot from the Festival. It meets on Wednesday evenings to provide informal tuition and practice opportunities in guitar and other instruments for over 18s.
The Loanhead Miners Club continues to be a major social and community hub for the town, and wide variety of events are run from there. Loanhead Guitar Club meets on Wednesday evenings to provide informal tuition and practice opportunities for over 18's
Several community groups run a variety of clubs including five a side football and Girl Guides.