Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow to be renamed the Willow Tree

A Lothians pub at the centre of a storm over a name which was branded outdated and offensive has now officially changed its name.

The pub, previously known as the Black Bitch, caused controversy due to the name. Picture: Michael Gillen
The pub, previously known as the Black Bitch, caused controversy due to the name. Picture: Michael Gillen

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Greene King will rename its Linlithgow pub, currently called The Black Bitch to The Willow Tree after the owner felt the name was racially offensive.

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However, campaigners have reacted with fury to the change, saying that the original name made no reference to race, and have added 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.

It was suggested locally that new name options could consider the nearby statue of drover Katie Wearie and Katie Wearie’s willow tree, which was planted originally in 1832 to mark the Reform Act in Scotland.

As a result, Greene King settled on the Willow Tree, which itself has brought criticism.

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Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie said: “This is a difficult balance and throughout this we have continued to highlight our respect for the history of Linlithgow. Our decision is not meant to diminish or denigrate the heritage of the town but at the same time we recognise that language has changed and the name can be extremely offensive to people.

“We’re pleased therefore to be instead changing it to The Willow Tree, which retains links to the town’s heritage, and look forward to this next chapter of the pub’s history.”

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But critics say that Green King’s founder, Benjamin Greene, was opposed to the Reform Act.

Alistair Old, spokesperson for the Action committee to retain the Black Bitch pub name, said: "We're appalled at Greene King's refusal to accept the massive and widespread opposition to changing the historic name Black Bitch on our pub in what clearly has become a vendetta against the overwhelming support to keep the historic name of the Pub.

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“Greene King made the choice themselves, they ironically picking the name the Willow Tree. The tree was indeed planted in 1832 to commemorate the Reform bill being passed in Parliament. Benjamin Greene, their founding slave owner, was a fanatical opponent of the reform bill and fought against the will of the people to improve democracy. Linlithgow celebrated the power of democracy in 1832.”

Mr Old added: “This company continues to pretend that they have some sort of mandate to proclaim that the historic name of the Black Bitch is racist and offensive; when nearly 12,000 people have signed a petition telling them they are wrong. West Lothian Council have asked them to stop defaming the town’s heritage, but the removal of the name sends out that exact message.

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“The action committee will be meeting shortly and will be consulting with the larger community on what appropriate action to take in the face of this appalling insult to the town of Linlithgow.”

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