Located 10 miles (16 km) south of Edinburgh, on the west bank of the North Esk, the bustling town of Penicuik was originally developed as a planned village in 1770 by its laird, Sir James Clerk of Penicuik (c.1710-82). The name originates from Pen-y-Cog, or 'Hill of the Cuckoo' in the ancient Brythonic language, a toponymic fact uniquely commemorated on Lothian Transport's Nos. 37 and 47 buses in 2011.
Penicuik's industries included first coal mining and then paper-making, a manufacture initially centred on the Valleyfield Mills which operated 1709-1966, creating wealth for the Cowan family who greatly influenced the town's economy and politics. The paper mill was remodelled for use as a prisoner-of-war camp at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1810-15), a period commemorated by the French Prisoners' Monument (1830). Mauricewood Pit closed after a devastating fire in 1889. Penicuik was home to Edinburgh Crystal between 1969 and their bankruptcy in 2006. Today Penicuik is primarily a dormitory for Edinburgh, although does have small industrial concerns and is a centre for agriculture and scientific research, at the nearby Edinburgh Technopole.
The graveyard of the parish church (1771) includes remains of the old 17th Century St Kentigern's church and its tower. Other major buildings include the Episcopal church of St James the Less (1882) and Penicuik South Church (1862), a 'master work' by F.T. Pilkington. Uttershill Castle (c.1510) provides superb viewpoints 1 mile (1.5 km) south of the town, while 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest is Brunstane Castle and 1¼ miles (2 km) southwest is Penicuik House, home to the Clerk family, which was gutted by fire in 1899.
Penicuik benefits from two secondary schools; Penicuik High School and Beeslack Community High School, together with Cornbank, Cuiken, Eastfield, Ladywood, Mauricewood and Sacred Heart Primary Schools, and Glencorse Primary School at Milton Bridge.