STEEPED in history, the oldest pub in the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow has quenched the thirst of countless customers who have been regaled with the touching story of how a dog’s loyalty inspired its name.

While for those locals born within the sound of the bells ringing from St Michael’s Church, there is deep pride in being known as “Black Bitches”.

But now the pub chain that owns the historic town’s Black Bitch Tavern has revealed controversial plans to erase centuries of heritage, after deciding the traditional name has racist and offensive connotations.

The move to change the name of the 17th-century pub to the Black Hound Tavern has sparked outrage among locals, who regard being known as a “black bitch” as the ultimate honour.

It has led to demands for the Greene King pub chain to rethink its decision, and a warning that locals will simply ignore the move and continue to call the pub by its historic name.

The town’s black bitch reference relates to a centuries-old story about a prisoner whose black greyhound remained loyal to him while he served his punishment, tied to a tree on an island in Linlithgow Loch.

Legend has it the dog swam across the water to deliver regular supplies of food to keep her master alive. Once caught in the act, the black greyhound was taken to another island, where she too was tied to a tree.

The black bitch became a symbol of loyalty and faithfulness. An image of the greyhound tied to an oak tree features on the town’s coat of arms, and a sculpture of a black greyhound was recently unveiled in its High Street.

Regardless, the Suffolk-based pub chain – which prides itself on its 200 years heritage – has insisted that modern sensitivities and the way language has evolved mean that despite the name is no longer appropriate.

Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie said: “This is an important decision to take, but we feel strongly that it is the right one. We are well-aware of the pub’s history and where the name originates and so we are choosing a new name that still reflects the pub’s history and will look to retain the coat of arms and images on the pub’s sign.”

The pub chain added that it had consulted with a number of groups and organisations, including the West Lothian Community Race Forum and undertaken independent research which it said showed “many people would no longer feel welcome visiting a pub with that name, even if they knew where the name originated”.

However, locals have said the decision is an “insult” to the town, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and where the monarchs throughout the 15th and 16th centuries were in regular residence.

David Tait, editor of Linlithgow’s Black Bitch magazine, said: “It’s displaying a bit of ignorance on the part of Greene King. It should be absolutely clear to them what the Black Bitch refers to. We have provided a lot of information from various sources. This is an extraordinary decision.

“There’s no better way to insult the people of Linlithgow than to go into this territory. People born within the sound of the bells of St Michael’s Church are known as Black Bitches and it is a great honour and a mark of a real Linlithgow person.

“Greene King own several pubs in Linlithgow. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a campaign against this, people do feel pretty strongly about it.

Greene King have already changed the names of other pubs in England, citing them as having potentially offensive names. Three pubs called The Black Boy and another called The Black’s Head, were given new names.

Ian Gibson, owner of the popular Platform 3 pub on the the town’s High Street, and secretary of Linlithow Pubwatch, described the name change as “total nonsense – political correctness gone mad”.

“Our late MP Tam Dalyell referred to the black bitches of Linlithgow in an address in the Commons, and was censured by the Speaker.

“He explained it wasn’t an offensive term, and referred to anybody, male or female, born in the town.

“If the term ‘black bitch’ is good enough to be used in Hansard, it should be good enough for Greene King.”

Retired journalist John Smith described the name change as “plain daft” and predicted there would be an outcry from townsfolk in general, and not just regulars at the Black Bitch.

“I’ve lived in Linlithgow for over 10 years, and I’ve never heard a single person complain about the name. I’ve spoken to puzzled tourists from all over the world, and they’re fascinated to hear the history of the black bitch greyhound dog.

“Many more visitors are now being acquainted with the dog who tried to save its master because of the magnificent public work of art sculpture of the black bitch recently installed in the centre of the town, with a full history describing its place in Linlithgow’s rich heritage.”