Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow: Why we decided to change the name to The Willow Tree – Nick Mackenzie

This week, we confirmed our decision to rename The Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow to The Willow Tree.

The Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow is to be renamed The Willow Tree (Picture: Picture Michael Gillen)
The Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow is to be renamed The Willow Tree (Picture: Picture Michael Gillen)

This follows discussions with key groups and individuals within the local community. Decisions like this are complex and this decision has weighed heavily on my mind.

There are many who feel changing the name is wrong. But equally, there are many who support changing it.

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We’re sorry to those who felt they didn’t get fair warning of our plans or didn’t feel adequately consulted. Our plans were widely publicised following our announcement last year and we’ve tried to make sure everyone had an opportunity to share their views with us.

We took it on board when people said they didn’t like our original choice of The Black Hound and suggested three alternatives for community groups to consider.

We never wanted to upset or offend people, but what we’ve heard is while there is a proud, historic context to the name, there are many who do not feel it is right for the words ‘Black Bitch’ to be written on the front of a pub, even when they know its context.

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Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow to be renamed the Willow Tree

We cannot, and should not, ignore that.

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Discussions about the pub name on television and radio crystallised the dynamics of this debate for me. Many reports started with a language warning or saw presenters say they felt uncomfortable saying “Black Bitch” live on air.

We heard the same from those supporting our decision, who even if they lived locally and knew the name’s context felt the use of language and words changes with time and shines a harsh light on what was considered acceptable in the past.

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That’s not to say we should ride roughshod over heritage. In this case, I believe the new name, The Willow Tree, will retain the heritage of the town, as requested in a letter to us from West Lothian Council.

It is inspired by the local story of drover Katie Wearie, of whom there is a statue near the pub, and her willow tree, planted in 1832 to mark the Reform Act.

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It’s important all our customers and everyone in the local community feels welcome in the pub. That is why I believe changing it to The Willow Tree is the right thing to do.

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive, Greene King

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