Black Bitch pub in West Lothian WILL be renamed The Willow Tree despite protests from angry locals

More than 500 objections were submitted and petition gathered 10,000 names
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Controversial plans to rename a historic West Lothian pub at the centre of a racism row are set to go ahead – despite months of pressure from angry locals.

Following a public consultation, owners Greene King were given the green light to rebrand Linlithgow boozer The Black Bitch as The Willow Tree.

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More than 10,000 residents signed a petition protesting the name change, while over 500 objections were submitted.

A West Lothian pub at the centre of a racism row has changed its name from The Black Bitch to the Willow Tree.A West Lothian pub at the centre of a racism row has changed its name from The Black Bitch to the Willow Tree.
A West Lothian pub at the centre of a racism row has changed its name from The Black Bitch to the Willow Tree.

Greene King, who run over 3,100 venues across the UK, felt the 350-year-old pub’s name was racially offensive.

However, campaigners reacted with fury to the change, saying that the original name made no reference to race, and arguing that Greene King’s founder was involved in the slave trade.

The pub’s original name derives from a local legend of a faithful black greyhound that swam across Linlithgow Loch to take food to her incarcerated owner – the canine’s efforts led to her being incorporated in the town’s coat of arms in 1673 and immortalised in the High Street sculpture, The Black Bitch of Linlithgow.

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Greene King was forced to seek help from the Scottish government after West Lothian Council deferred a previous decision to rename the pub.

Approving plans for listed building and advertising consent, reporter Elspeth Cook, said: “I have carefully considered the submissions from members of the public and local community groups regarding the story of the black bitch (depicted as a species of hound) and its importance to the history and identity of Linlithgow.

“While the story is undoubtedly of historic and cultural importance to Linlithgow it is evident that the listed buildings were erected after the event took place.

“Consequently they have no direct connection to the event. Since the middle of the 20th century the public house name has commemorated the event but this is not the original business name.

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“It had two names prior to that: the “Western Tavern” and “Robert Braes Wine and Spirits”. As a result I do not consider the name of the business is an integral element of the historic interest of these buildings.

“The strong support for the retention of the existing public house name due to the importance of the historic event it commemorates is evident within the representations submitted by the local community,’ she said.

“Nevertheless, the motivations behind the proposed name change, the history of the Greene King business organisation and its actions when carrying out alterations to other properties in Linlithgow are not relevant matters in this appeal.”

The decision did not go down well with those protesting against the name change.

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In a statement, the West Lothian History and Amenity Society said: “The term ‘Black Bitch’ has been associated with the town for over 700 years, natives of Linlithgow are proud to be known as ‘Black Bitches’; it is a term of affection with no negative connotations.

“The term describes a female canine, rightly called a bitch which is black in colour – nothing offensive, no misogyny involved. Greene King have jumped to the wrong conclusions and read something into the name which does not exist.”

Linlithgow Civic Trust said: “According to the their managing director, Greene King is on a journey to become a truly anti-racist organisation and has already changed the names of a few of their public houses in England on the grounds that the names have racist connotations.

“However, there is nothing racist about the name The Black Bitch. It accurately describes a female canine with a black coat. We note that Greene appear to have no plans to change the names of their public houses called The Black Horse or The Black Bull.”

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