The Bennie Museum lies in Mansefield Street, just off Bathgate's main shopping street. A museum of Bathgate's life and heritage, it is housed in what was once a pair of derelict cottages converted through local enthusiasm. The continuing enthusiasm of volunteers ensures that the Bennie Museum is open almost every day of the year. See the opening times on the right.
Bathgate is a town with a recorded history stretching back to the 1100s. It was here that one of the great dynasties of Scotland, the Stewarts, had its origins. More recently, in 1811, one of Bathgate's most famous sons was born here. Sir James Young Simpson, was the first man ever to be knighted for his services to medicine and is primarily remembered for introducing anaesthesia to childbirth. And in the mid-1800s, the Glasgow-born James Young (no relation) established the world's first oil refinery in Bathgate, earning himself a great deal of money in the process, together with the name by which he is usually remembered, James "Paraffin" Young.
The Bennie Museum does have relics of Bathgate's early history, dating all the way back to coins left here by the Romans. But for the most part it is home to objects that would be readily recognised, and probably used, by the last three or four generation of Bathgate residents.
Exhibits on view therefore include a range of bottles and other objects believed to have been made in the Bathgate Glass Factory, which operated from 1866 to 1887. Elsewhere a grandfather clock made by a Bathgate clock-maker stands near a remarkable petrol pump, found in rubble on the site of the museum while it was being renovated. Medals, uniforms and golf trophies can be found here, together with recreations of ranges and associated kitchen equipment some of us might remember in our grandparents' houses. There is even a piano here that was originally purchased from a local shop in 1937 for £18.10/- (or £18.50 in today's currency).
Some museums go in for grand objects that are magnificent or awe-inspiring in their own right. The Bennie Museum doesn't. Instead, what makes this remarkable museum so attractive is the way its contents very clearly relate to the day to day lives of real Bathgate people. This is not so much the story of Bathgate, rather it is the story of the people who lived here. Combined with a comfortable layout that shows off the exhibits at their best, the Bennie Museum really is an attraction worth seeking out and enjoying.
It takes an observant visitor, however, to leave the museum with the answer to the question that probably puzzles most who who come here. Why is what might have been called the Bathgate Heritage Museum called the Bennie Museum? The answer lies on a brass plaque on a beam which once divided the two cottages forming the museum. These ruined cottages were gifted to the project by the Bennie family in 1980: hence the name of the museum. It took nine years of effort by the Bathgate Community Council, and the support of many local organisations, businesses, and individuals to turn the cottages into the museum you see today. It's nice to emerge back into the busy shopping streets of Bathgate thinking that all this hard work was worthwhile.