The Black B**** of Linlithgow

If you close your eyes and throw a dart at a circle that’s inside a square, and repeat that 10,000 times, the ratio of darts that land inside the circle (along with high falutin math) can help you estimate Pi.

Relax, we’re not doing that. We don’t do numbers.

But as the old expression goes that we just made up, if you throw a dart at a pub in the UK, the odds are favorable that you’ll hit one named after a dog.

By way of a bit of background information, pubs were first ordered to hang signs outside their establishment during the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century. Most people couldn’t read, but they could recognize images. Consequently, British pubs hung signs on which pictures of their names could be “read” by the illiterate. Sometimes, the images were of landmarks or local traditions. Sometimes, the names blended people and body parts (the Queen’s Head, or the Bishop’s Nose), and sometimes, they reflected legends. But often, the signs depicted animals associated with hunting and shooting since that’s how people got their dinner:  Fox and Hounds, Dog and Duck, Dog and Gun, Hare and Hounds….you get the idea.

As an aside, the most popular pub name in Britain today doesn’t include a dog (hiss). Britain’s most popular pub name (there are at least 600 across the country) has heraldic origins, and the lion is the common element in many of them. In fact, the most popular name for a public house is “The Red Lion,” believed to date from the late Middle Ages when King James VI of Scotland was also crowned King James I of England. Another high profile pub name in the UK gets its name from a 17th century legend when Cromwell defeated Prince Charles Stuart. The prince escaped the battle by dressing up as a woman. He hid in various houses, and at the Boscobel House in Shropshire,  he concealed himself for a day by perching in an English oak tree. He eventually slipped away to France before returning to England to become Charles II. The tree became known as the Royal Oak, and “Royal Oak” is now the second most popular name for a pub in the UK.

We are sorry to report that pubs named after dogs don’t even break into the Top Ten, but on the upside, the 25th most popular name for a pub in Britain is “The Greyhound.” “Fox and Hounds” comes in at number 28 with one hundred and twenty-nine pubs so named.

One hundred and fourteen pubs are named “Hare and Hounds,” making it the 37th most common name overall, and unfortunately (from our point of view), not until #215 do we find mention of a dog-named-pub again,”  it being the, “Dog and Gun.”

pub, greyhound,

“Black Dog” is the 225th most common pub name overall in the UK, but one of them comes with a story. Evidently,   people born in Linlithgow are known as “black bitches,” a name of affection that comes from the fact that the burgh’s coat of arms portrays a black Greyhound chained to a tree. As the legend goes, the Greyhound’s owner was punished for a crime by being banished to an island in Linlithgow Loch where authorities intended that he should starve to death.

After some time, authorities learned that the criminal was still alive, and it was because his black Greyhound had been swimming out to the island carrying food and water to him from his wife every night. In response, the authorities chained the dog to the tree too. The hound’s loyalty and perseverance earned her a place in posterity, but times change, and the original pub so named announced in the last couple of years that the pub would be changing its name to the “Willow Tree.”

As breed names go, no fewer than fifty-three pubs have “Greyhound” in their name, and several include “Bloodhound,” “Foxhound,” or “Beagle” in their moniker.

If you owned a pub and it named it after your breed, what would that name be?

Image: The statue of the ‘Black Bitch’ of Linlithgow is by David Annand and was officially unveiled in January 2020 in a location near West Lothian, Scotland. The photo was taken by Richard Sutcliffe who licensed it for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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