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Scottish Towns-Cities / Writings · 5 June 2024

Scottish Towns-Cities. (Linlithgow.)

Linlithgow (/lɪnˈlɪθɡoʊ/; Scottish Gaelic: Gleann Iucha, Scots: Lithgae) is a town in West Lothian, Scotland. It was historically West Lothian’s county town, reflected in the county’s alternative name of Linlithgowshire. An ancient town, it lies south of its two most prominent landmarks: Linlithgow Palace and Linlithgow Loch, and north of the Union Canal.

Linlithgow’s patron saint is Saint Michael and its motto is St. Michael is kind to strangers. A statue of the saint holding the burgh coat of arms stands on the High Street.


Linlithgow is located in the north-east of West Lothian, close to the border with the Falkirk Council area (historically part of Stirlingshire). It lies 20 miles (32 km) west of Edinburgh along the main railway route to Glasgow. Before the construction of the M8 and M9 motorways and the opening of the Forth Road Bridge, the town lay on the main road from Edinburgh to Stirling, Perth and Inverness, while the canal system linked the burgh to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The nearby village of Blackness once served as the burgh’s port. Linlithgow is overlooked by its local hill, Cockleroi.


The name Linlithgow comes from the Old British lynn llaith cau meaning “lake in the damp hollow”. Originally “Linlithgow” referred to the loch itself, the town being known as just “Lithgow” (hence the common surname). Folk etymology associated this name with the Gaelic liath-chù meaning “grey dog”, likely the origin of the black bitch on the burgh arms.


The chief historic attraction of Linlithgow is the remains of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of James V and Mary, Queen of Scots, and probably Scotland’s finest surviving late medieval secular building. The present palace was started (on an older site) in 1424 by James I of Scotland. It was burnt in 1746, and, whilst unroofed, it is still largely complete in terms of its apartments, though very few of the original furnishings survived.

Linlithgow was also the site of the Battle of Linlithgow Bridge at the western edge of the town. The bridge no longer stands. The roadway to Linlithgow over the River Avon is described by scholars as a lifted road.

Besides the palace, a second attraction, standing adjacent, is the 15th century St. Michael’s Church. Its western tower originally had a distinctive stone crown spire, of the type seen also on St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and Newcastle Cathedral, but it was damaged in a storm in 1768 then removed in 1821. In 1964 a controversial replacement spire in aluminium in a modern style by Scots architect Sir Basil Spence[citation needed][Credited elsewhere to sculptor Geoffrey Clarke], representing Christ’s crown of thorns, was added.

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Many historic buildings line the High Street. On the south side ground levels rise and several historic wynds and closes, as found in Edinburgh still exist. The most prominent space is on axis with[clarification needed] the road to the palace. This contains the Cross Well of 1807 (redesigned by James Haldane) which proclaims itself to be a replica of its 1628 predecessor.

North of the well stands the Town House of 1668 by the master mason John Smith. This replaced a previous hall or Tolbooth demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s army in 1650. Much of its original interior was removed in a modernisation project of 1962. In June 1622 Katherine Rannald (alias Broun) from Kilpunt and her daughter Barbara Home (alias Winzet) were imprisoned in the Tolbooth on suspicion of witchcraft.

Linlithgow has been cited as the location of the first petrol pump in Scotland. “A plaque on the High Street records that Scotland’s first petrol pump was installed at a garage here in 1919.”

Linlithgow’s Black Bitch

The burgh’s coat of arms features a black bitch chained to an oak tree on an island, and those born within the town are known as “black bitches”. In his account of a tour of Scotland, published in 1679, an English gentleman, Thomas Kirk, described the arms of the town as “a black bitch tied to a tree, in a floating island. We enquired for a story about it, but could meet with none: their schoolmaster told us it proceeded from the name of the place. Linlithgow, in Erst [Gaelic], is thus explained: Lin signifies Lough; Lith, black; and Gow, a hound.”

A more recently recorded legend relates that the bitch was a black greyhound whose master was sentenced to starve to death on an island in the loch. She used to swim from the town every day with food for him. When this was discovered she was chained to a tree on a different island to suffer the same fate as her master. The townspeople took the animal’s loyalty and bravery as symbolic of their own. The local pub named “The Black Bitch” is reputed to be one of Scotland’s oldest pubs.


The south side of the High Street was spared the demolition inflicted upon the north side in the 1960s.
Two large tracts of the northern side of the High Street were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by flats and public buildings in the brutalist style typical of that time period. Although these buildings were no doubt welcomed at the time as a vast improvement on what must have been cramped and dilapidated traditional accommodation, they were poorly conceived and constructed and have required extensive maintenance and renovation over the years.[citation needed] Many locals lament the brutal effect these buildings have had on the character and appearance of the town’s main thoroughfare, and indeed such a dramatic remodelling of buildings forming such an integral part of the town would be unthinkable nowadays.

Today the town is especially popular with middle classes and commuters, not only because of its transport links with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, but also because of the perceived quality of its schooling. The town grew considerably during the 1990s with the completion of several housing developments on the east side of the town. Though there is little scope for the town to grow further (as it is now bounded by green belt to the south and east, the M9 to the north, the river Avon and county boundary to the West and with the east side of the town having limited access to the M9) a planning application by Wallace Land for its proposals for a residential and retail development at Burghmuir was submitted in early February 2012.[needs updating] The town also now suffers from parking problems and the local schools are running to full capacity due to the massive increase in population over the last ten years.

Linlithgow is also home to a major computing centre owned by Oracle. Former industries include the St. Magdalene’s distillery, the Nobel explosives works, paper mills and many tanneries.


The town has a generally east–west orientation and is centred on what used to be the main Edinburgh-Stirling road; this now forms the main thoroughfare called the High Street. Plots of farmed land, known as rigs, ran perpendicular to the High Street and comprised much of the town’s development until the 19th century. Growth was restricted to the north by Linlithgow Loch, and by the steep hill to the south, but, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, development began much further south of the High Street. In the late 20th century, demand for housing led to many residential developments much further south, as well as spreading into new areas. This southward development was bisected by the Union Canal and latterly by the main Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line, and today there are traffic problems because there are only three places in the town where each of these can be crossed.

To the west, Linlithgow Bridge used to be a somewhat distinct village with its own identity, but in the latter half of the 20th century it was enveloped in the expansion of the main town. Today the distinction between them is hard to make out.


Long a Labour stronghold, Linlithgow’s political scene has changed dramatically in line with the rise of the Scottish National Party across the country in the early 21st Century.

UK Parliament

At Westminster, Linlithgow has been included in the Linlithgow and East Falkirk constituency since 2005. Linlithgow was a safe Labour seat until the SNP landslide of 2015 when sitting MP Michael Connarty was defeated by Martyn Day of the SNP. Day successfully defended the seat in the 2017 snap election despite his lead diminishing by 7 percentage points.

Scottish Parliament

At Holyrood, Linlithgow is represented by the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs. Prior to the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the town was represented by Mary Mulligan of Labour. It is also part of the Lothian electoral region, which elected 3 Conservative, 2 Labour and 2 Green MSPs under the additional member system in 2016.

West Lothian Council

At both the 2012 and 2017 local elections, Linlithgow ward elected one Conservative, one Labour and one SNP councillor, namely Tom Kerr, Tom Conn and David Tait respectively.

British Army

Following the formation of the Territorial Force the town was allocated, for recruiting, to the Lothians and Border Horse and 10th Battalion, Royal Scots. Today 1 SCOTS recruit from the area keeping the traditions of the area from the Royal Scots.

Facilities and leisure
Linlithgow’s rich history and central location make it a popular tourist destination, while many local people commute to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Stirling; this is made relatively easy by the town’s railway station and its proximity to both the M8 and M9 motorways.

The town is served by three supermarkets and a retail park situated in Linlithgow Bridge. There are also a diverse range of local retailers in the High Street. There are controversial proposals for a new retail development to the east of the town. These are being opposed by a local lobby group.[Out of date]

Linlithgow is big enough to have facilities for most common participation sports.

Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club (formed from a partnership of Linlithgow Rose Football Club and BFC Linlithgow) has about 500 player members, involved in soccer 4s, soccer 7s, girls, youth and adult junior football. The club has a dedicated goalkeeping school and referee training programme and has been awarded Community Level status in both the SFA Quality Mark and West Lothian Council Club Accreditation schemes.

Linlithgow is also host to Linlithgow Rose F.C., Linlithgow Rugby Football Club as well as Linlithgow Cricket Club who play at the Boghall Cricket Club Ground. Linlithgow also hosts two main registered Scotland Supporters Clubs for the Scottish National football team: Linlithgow & District Tartan Army (LADTA) and the Young Linlithgow Tartan Army (YLTA).

The eastern end of Linlithgow Loch from the Peel.
A number of local parks, including play areas for children, are spread throughout the burgh, with the tract of land surrounding the palace known as the Peel being particularly popular in summer. Low Port Outdoor Education Centre is situated next to the loch and provides facilities for many outdoor activities, many based on the adjacent loch. Nearby country parks include Beecraigs and Muiravonside.

Linlithgow golf club, founded in 1913, sits to the south of the canal on the western edge of town.

Educational establishments in the town include Linlithgow Academy, which regularly appears close to the top of the school league tables in Scotland and is one of the main reasons for the demand for housing in Linlithgow, and five primary schools: Linlithgow Primary School, St Joseph’s Primary School, Linlithgow Bridge Primary School, Low Port Primary School and Springfield Primary School.

Donaldson’s College, Scotland’s national school for the deaf, relocated from Edinburgh to a new building in Linlithgow in 2008.

The Riding of the Marches, held in one form or another since the mid-16th century and nowadays celebrated on the first Tuesday after the second Thursday in June, involves young and old in the tradition of checking the burgh’s perimeter, including the town’s historic port of Blackness. Although today’s activities are centred more on the colourful parades through the town that involve bands and floats decorated by local groups, the more ceremonial duties of the Marches are still performed, and a variety of local groups ensure that the traditions, old and new, are maintained.

There are many other events during the year such as the Children’s Gala Day, the Linlithgow Folk Festival and a pre-Christmas Victorian Street Fayre, and since 2014, Party at the Palace which is a music festival held annually in August by the loch and has brought acts including Nile Rodgers, Kaiser Chiefs, Travis, Simple Minds, The Proclaimers, Texas and many others to play in the town. The Charlatans and Deacon Blue headline Party at the Palace 2019. The sense of community is enhanced by many active local groups such as Linlithgow Amateur Musical Productions (LAMP), Lithca Lore, the Linlithgow Players and the 41 Club. The town also has its own weekly local newspaper, the Linlithgow Gazette.

The Linlithgow Union Canal Society runs a canal museum and operates narrowboat tours from Manse Road basin.

The town has two Church of Scotland parish churches: St Michael’s and the smaller St. Ninian’s Craigmailen. There are also churches of other denominations, including a Methodist chapel (now an evangelical church, St. John’s, which meets in Linlithgow Academy on a Sunday morning); St Peter’s, an architecturally distinctive Scottish Episcopal church; and a Roman Catholic church, also called St Michael’s, which was used as an ambulance depot by Polish servicemen during the Second World War.

The Linlithgow Museum is a volunteer-run local history museum in Linlithgow. The museum is housed in the Linlithgow Partnership Centre, along with the West Lothian Family History Society and library.

Notable people

Mary, Queen of Scots, statue in the garden of the Annet House Museum

King James V was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1512.
James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray was assassinated in the town in 1570.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was born and christened in Linlithgow in 1542.
Sir Thomas Carlaw Martin FRSE (1850-1920), newspaper editor and Director of the Royal Scottish Museum;
Sir Charles Wyville Thomson FRS FRSE FLS FGS FZS, natural historian, marine zoologist and chief scientist on the Challenger Expedition;
Robert Blair, recipient of the Victoria Cross;
Colin Fleming, professional tennis player was brought up and educated in Linlithgow;
Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, was born (1954) and grew up in Linlithgow.
In September 2007, a plaque was installed commemorating the fictional Star Trek character Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the Enterprise’s chief engineer, who, according to Star Trek lore, will be born in Linlithgow in 2222.
Footballer Colin Stein was born in Linlithgow in 1947.
Footballer and Cricketer Donald Ford was born in Linlithgow in 1944.
John West (Captain) 1809–1888, was a Scottish inventor and businessman who emigrated to Canada, California and later Oregon where he operated a cannery and exported tuna to Great Britain.
Twin towns
Linlithgow is twinned with the French town Guyancourt and, as part of West Lothian, with Grapevine, Texas in the USA. This has resulted in exchange programmes where students from Linlithgow visit schools in Grapevine, Texas.

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