Linlithgow is a small and very old town in central Scotland – it is a place steeped in history and tradition. Today, 14th June 2016, is the Linlithgow Marches Day, an annual celebration that originated in the historical practice of “riding around the burgh boundaries by the relevant authorities to ensure that those living outside the designated areas had not encroached on the Burgh lands.” To this day, every year there is a walk around Linlithgow’s boundaries early on Marches Day, though it is now purely symbolic. The tradition is a very important part of Linlithgow’s calendar, with the first recorded reference to a Riding found in the minutes of the Council dated 19th October 1541. It is thought, however, that the Riding of the Marches had been going on for a long time prior to this reference.
Marches Day is celebrated with a large procession through the town and fair rides for the children, who all get the day off school. Proudly walking in the parade there is always a group called The Bitch’s Bairns. “Bairns” is the Scottish word for children, and this group is made up of people born in Linlithgow. In Linlithgow and the surrounding area, it is very common to refer to those born in the town as Black Bitches. Unlike anywhere else in the world, to call someone a Black Bitch in Linlithgow is not a racial slur or an insult. On the contrary – it is a compliment and an acknowledgement of being a local: someone who was born and raised here.
This odd tradition comes from the legend of a black greyhound whose master was sentenced to death by starvation on an island in Linlithgow loch. The dog used to swim from the town every day with food for her master, and ended up saving his life. The townspeople took the symbol of the dog’s loyalty and bravery as their own. There is a local pub named “The Black Bitch”, which is one of Scotland’s oldest pubs. Linlithgow’s Coat of Arms features an image of a black greyhound in front of an oak tree.
Languages are changing and evolving all the time, in Linlithgow this evolution is quite unique, with the original meaning of “bitch” remaining dominant. Context is crucial!
Linlithgow marches and deacons’ court official website – http://www.linlithgowmarches.org/history.html
The black bitch magazine – http://www.linlithgowcommunitymagazine.co.uk/about-linlithgow/