Black Bitch owners set deadline for name change in face of furious opposition in Linlithgow

Britain’s biggest pub group has set a deadline for renaming The Black Bitch pub in West Lothian because it claims the original 16th century name has racist connotations.

By Vic Rodrick
Monday, 17th January 2022, 10:10 am
The Black Bitch pub in Linlithgow. Owners Greene King want to rename it The Black Hound. Picture Michael Gillen.

Wayne Shurvinton, Greene King Pub Partners managing director, has written to community groups in Linlithgow, West Lothian, asking for feedback on a list of alternative names by 24 January.

More than 11,300 people have called for a halt to the plans because the black bitch in the title has featured on the royal burgh’s coat of arms for centuries and stems from a local legend which protestors say has nothing to do with racism.

However, Mr Shurvington claimed a lot of people had got in touch about the controversy, both for and against the proposed name change.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

He wrote: “After considering people’s responses, we have decided to also seek views on whether people would prefer to see a different name to ‘The Black Hound’ instead.

“We would be grateful of any response before Monday 24th January when we will make our final decision.”

He added that alternative names being considered included: “The Wearie Drover” – after a nearby statue of 19th century drover Katie Wearie who legend says used to stop and rest underneath a willow tree in Linlithgow; “The Willow Tree” – which would also mark Katie Wearie’s legend, and “The Linlithgow Arms” – To highlight the close association the pub has long held with Linlithgow’s history

Campaigners against the move described the pub’s owners as “cultural vandals” for trying to abolish a name they say has clearly been proved to have no racist connotations.

It stems from a 13th century legend about a female greyhound which took food to its master after he was condemned to starve to death chained to an island on Linlithgow Loch.

For hundreds of years people born and bred in Linlithgow have proudly called themselves Black Bitches and the dog in the legend is commemorated by a statue in the town’s High Street.

In a strongly worded letter to Greene King’s bosses, Alistair Old, spokesman for the action group formed to stop the name change, said the company’s actions had stoked racial tension and resulted in racist emails being sent to local Black and Asian community members.

He told the firm: “We strongly request that you call a halt to your plans at this time to allow tempers to cool, and to allow a full and proper public discussion to be held on the future of the name of the pub.

“Better still, withdraw your proposals once and for all. Failure to do so will show your company’s contempt for public opinion and confirm your company’s reputation as cultural vandals.”

Mr Old said he and his followers were refusing the help the company pick a new name and accused them of rejecting two solutions the protestors had put forward: to provide more signage explaining the origin of the Black Bitch title and erecting a more historical sign on the outside of the pub which did not include the name.

He questioned: “How can they possibly say that this name change isn’t the cause of the unrest and abuse? The abusive emails directly mention the name change! It’s definitely their bully boy tactics which have raised emotions in the town.

“By the way, when can we expect to see their company’s name change? They say on their website that during 2022 they are removing signage which has racist and transatlantic slavery trade connotations .

“The slave owner Greene who founded the company has his name on thousands of pubs all over the UK. Why don’t they start their campaign nearer home and remove ‘Greene King’ instead?”

A Greene King spokesperson said: “We reject Mr Old’s assertions and want to be clear that we condemn all racist behaviour. To suggest that changing a pub’s name is to blame for this, rather than the actions of the perpetrator, is totally wrong.

“We know our announcement hasn’t been welcomed by all, which is why we have said we’re happy to discuss various options for the new name, but we cannot ignore that we spoke to people from a range of backgrounds – and continue to receive correspondence from people – who support the move and find the current name offensive. It's important to us that everyone feels welcome in our pubs.”

In addition to The Black Bitch, Greene King has announced it will change the names of three of its pubs called The Black Boy and another called The Black’s Head due to a perception that the names were linked to racism.

Coincidentally, rival pub chain JD Wethersoon has confirmed it will not be renaming ‘The Black Boy’ pub in Wales because of claimed racist connotations.

Wetherspoon said it had never received any complaints about the venue in Newtown, Powys, and that name, which dates back to the 17th century, referred to a young chimney sweep.