Black Bitch pub row: Council asked to back fight to save name

A council will today be asked to throw its weight behind a campaign to save the name of an historic Linlithgow pub.

By Vic Rodrick
Monday, 24th January 2022, 5:15 pm

A motion has been tabled for Tuesday’s meeting of West Lothian Council as the furious row over ‘racially offensive” name of The Black Bitch tavern shows no sign of abating.

In the face of almost unanimous opposition from local people, politicians and academics, the owners of the 16th century pub – Suffolk-based brewers Greene King – plan to rename it with more politically correct branding, suggesting “The Black Hound”, “The Wearie Drover” – after historic local character Katie Wearie – or simply “The Linlithgow Arms”.

SNP councillor David Tait has asked cross-party colleagues to back his bid to retain the name which dates from a 13th century legend.

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Pic: Michael Gillen

It originated from a black female greyhound who loyally took food to her master every day after he was sentenced to starve to death on an island in Linlithgow Loch.

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Councillor Tait said: “I think Greene King's proposal is impossible to understand both on a community basis and commercially. The community is in disbelief that this can happen and it can't be often that a company sets out to alienate its customer base for such misguided reasons.“I'm sure everyone knows very well the attachment ‘Black Bitches’ have for their community. I expect the pub will always be the Black Bitch no matter what the sign says.”

Councillor Tait’s motion states that a symbol of a “Black Bitch” has formed part of Linlithgow’s Civic Insignia for centuries. According to some, a representation of the female greyhound first appeared on the Royal Burgh’s Coat of Arms as far back as 1286.

Picture Michael Gillen

Today, he said, people treasured the legend of the faithful greyhound, and those born and bred in the town, both male and female, were proud to be known as Black Bitches.”

Throughout centuries, he said, the Black Bitch had retained its place in the hearts and minds of Linlithgow people – through the Reformation, Oliver Cromwell’s brief visit to the town, Charles Edward Stewart’s occupation, pestilence and plague and, more recently, the various changes to government at both national and local level.

His motion says: “No‐one has even suggested removing the term from the town’s history, so deep and permanent is its connection with the town.

"However, times change and now we have a property owner, Greene King, from well outwith the region who, because it has the right to do so, decides that the name must change. Its preferred option is the spectacularly inappropriate ‐ the Black Hound, hound being used colloquially to characterise a despicable or contemptible man.

“Despite countless requests to stop and think submitted by our MP; MSP; all three Local Councillors, Linlithgow Community Groups and individuals as well as a petition with 11,000 signatures in support of retaining the name, Greene King arrogantly press on, blind to the overwhelming wishes of the community on which their four pubs on Linlithgow High Street depend.

“Also ignored was a carefully argued case in support of not changing the name by Sir Geoff Palmer, Chancellor of Heriot Watt University, and recognised worldwide as a high profile and respected spokesperson on racial equality ‐ as well as, coincidently, an authority on brewing who has made an acknowledged contribution to the success of all brewing companies, not least Greene King.

“His case was centred on the proposition that you can’t change the past but you can change the consequences of the past. In this case his warning that changing the name of a pub risked aggravating racial issues which, sadly, at the time of writing seems to be coming to pass.”

He said his motion proposed that West Lothian Council writes to George Magnus, Non‐Executive Chairman of the Board of Greene King, and Nick MacKenzie, Chief Executive Officer, Greene King, to record the “overwhelming opposition” to the proposed name change.

He also urges the council to ask that Greene King respects the wishes of its customers and the Linlithgow community and retains the name “Black Bitch Tavern” to avoid accusations of cultural vandalism and inflaming racial tensions in an otherwise peaceful community.

The pub chain's deadline for locals to vote on alternative names expired at midnight on Monday.

A Greene King spokesman said: “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.”

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