When the Third Statistical Account was compiled in 1953 it was still true to say that Elphinstone was ‘primarily a mining’ village, housing families of men working local mines owned by the coal owners such as Mr Durie. No less than five interconnected streets have the name Duries Park. However, a significant change has occurred in the past three or four decades. Closure of the local pits at Limeylands and the Fleets concurrently with other small local drift mines in the Tranent area and elsewhere was accompanied by the centralisation of work in the mining industry at large deep mines with 1-2 mile shafts. The men locally nearly all transferred to two of those ‘superpits’ at Monktonhall and Bilston Glen in Midlothian and were bussed to those locations for three shifts a day. The disastrous year and a half strike of 1984-85 ended in total defeat for the miners and the closure of Monktonhall and Bilston Glen followed. An attempt was later made to reopen Monktonhall in a workforce/management buy-out venture. A number of Elphinstone men re-invested their redundancy payouts in a brave venture (mostly younger men with still 20-30 years of working life left; older miners closer to retirement age were largely resigned to taking unofficial ‘early’ retirement). The attempt failed and the pit closed, this time permanently. An industry which had employed approaching three quarters of the adult male population could by 2000 claim only one or two men working at the opencasts locally.
There is now no dominant occupation. The village is largely dormitory with most workers travelling to jobs in and around Edinburgh. The building trade and clerical / administrative or retail jobs are commonest but there is quite a diverse range.
The poor housing referred to in the 1953 account was eventually demolished but not until a couple of decades had elapsed; most notoriously metal prefabs erected after the war as a ‘temporary’ measure lasted into the 1980s. The fields between the edge of the village and North Elphinstone farm had two streets added, in 1958 and again in 1970. They were both designated part of the Duries Park area. A few years later the Cinderhall Place development took place just above the north end of Buxley Road. These were local authority houses; but a private scheme was added in a former field at the north west tip of the village and called Waterloo Place. Another private development was squeezed in on a piece of cleared ground behind the village shop in Main Street, and named Marchwood Court. Two houses have also been added to the southern edge of the village at the Bellyford Road, behind the Mission Hall. The Government’s tenants right-to-buy scheme has also led to a significant number of houses being bought. The owner/occupier versus rented balance has altered, for after the war virtually all the houses were council owned and rented out.
A consequence of private house building and sales by the tenants-turned-owners has been an influx of new residents. The village is no longer a closed community. Though there is still a significant number of denizens who trace back their line five/six generations to the first residents, or who can claim to be related to several other families of similar long standing, an increasing number of new house purchasers, attracted by the proximity of Edinburgh, have no previous connection to Elphinstone, or for that matter East Lothian.
Families with school age children have tended to move away, mainly owing to concerns about poor transport and lack of proximity to amenities. A house swap scheme run by the council accelerated this trend, as most taking advantage were younger people who wanted to be closer to secondary schools. Those taking their place tended to have grown-up families. Similarly children from the village tend to buy or move to homes nearer population centres when they grow up and get a job or marry.
A private car is if not essential at least important; more than half the households have access to a car. Those that cannot afford a car or do not have one for other reasons – mostly older people – face real problems. There is only one bus an hour on average, which runs to Tranent and Port Seton. There is only one direct bus to Edinburgh, (at 7.00 am) and a few which are extended to Dalkeith or Musselburgh. These are not commercially viable and only survive by council subsidy. Campaigns to keep them in place have often been required.
The decline in younger families has been reflected in the village school‘s population. There have been times when there were only two classes, although three is the norm; however in the boom years of the early 1970s there were four. The roll has fluctuated between 25-40+. The position of the school is not wholly dependent on demographic changes in the village, as under educational reforms parents have for some 15 years had the right to send children to schools not necessarily in their catchment area. Pupils from outside Elphinstone attend here and vice-versa. There are three teachers at the moment.
At the time of an HMI inspection in 1991 there were two classes and two full time teachers, including the head teacher, plus a part-time temporary teacher to free up the head’s time. They were supported by visiting specialist teachers of music, learning support, and art; The roll was 41 – 19 in the primary 1-3 class and 22 in the primary 4-7.The primary 1-3 teacher had served for 19 years but the previous 10 years had altogether seen a high turnover of teachers, with 5 different faces.
The building (dating from 1924) comprised two classrooms, a general purposes room including a small library area, school office, and a hall used for dining, music, physical education and assemblies. Classrooms space was cramped; heating and ventilation variable and there was a draughty play area of grass and tarmac. Resources were limited except for environmental studies. There were good community contacts with parents, the local policeman, school chaplain, and local pensioner lunch club; and links also to the pre school playgroup (HMI Inspection report 1991).
A new school was talked about from the early 1960s; it was to be combined with a village hall and other amenities to revitalise the village. Recently with new houses being planned and a projected population growth there are proposals for an extension to the school, including sports facilities. In 2000, around 20 pupils are attending Ross High secondary.
A community centre was provided, in the form of a mobile pre-fab structure in the grounds of the school, after work by local community councillors. It is used for community activities such as playgroups, pensioner’s groups and youth clubs. It is not as grand an affair as the promised village hall but is still useful. Social activities often centre on the former Miner’s Institute now known universally as ‘the Club’. It is well attended, the organisers put in a lot of work and events there are popular. The other licensed premises is the Elphinstone Arms, a public house in Main Street. It has a take away chip shop attached. The bowling green next to the club is in good condition, well-patronised and hosts tournaments regularly. Pigeon racing, dog breeding and shooting (there is a regular gun club) are still popular activities.
The only shop now is the sub-post office with a grocery shop attached. The main Co-op store closed in the early 1980s and was converted into flats. A small newsagents/food shop in Main Street recently ceased trading. The only local business is Cowan’s garage a car-dealership for Fiat cars (previously it was a SAAB dealer.) There is no longer a village constable; an occasional patrol car from Tranent is considered enough and the police house is now a private home. The schoolmaster’s house is also a private home, as head teachers are no longer expected to live locally.
The Mission Hall is still in use; the lease has run out but negotiations with Lord Elphinstone for a renewal are under way. The building is in need of significant refurbishment and has no running water. A monthly service and weekly Sunday school are held. The MacFarlane family has run those for three generations and was still involved at the time of writing. There is still strong local goodwill for the hall despite the structural problems, as it was built the century before last by local men in their own time, with their bare hands sometimes.
At the start of 2002 work has begun on a new housing development in a field between Waterloo Place and Tranent Road. More housing developments are foreseen in future years. It is possible that if expansion continues and concomitant developments to the south of Tranent also continue then Tranent and Elphinstone will merge sometime in the twenty-first century.
Local events are well supported. The gala day, dormant since the mid 1980s was revived in 1997,1998 and 1999.
People on the whole know their neighbours quite well – more recent inhabitants as well as ‘locals’. It should be noted, however, that local legends of nosiness are apocryphal. Residents are no more or less curious than anywhere else and there is no record of knocking on walls to alert everyone of strangers. The nickname of ‘Peeptoon’ still persists but is a jest.
Although Elphinstone is in Edinburgh’s hinterland and close to Tranent there is a feeling that it suffers from the neglect common to remote rural areas. The failure to build the new school and hall still rankles. Ironically the only government building works undertaken was the public toilet, which was not really required, there being few visitors or tourists. Inevitably it closed and was demolished. The absence of a library, medical facilities, non-licensed entertainment spots, full sports facilities, greater play activities for children and a wider range of shops has not helped in sustaining a viable population, nor has reduced transport links. However, the strong community spirit is still working to keep Elphinstone as more than just a satellite estate for commuters working in towns and the city.