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William Price was born on 4th March 1800 at Ty’n-y-coedcae Farm “The House in the Wooded Field” in Risca, Monmouthshire. He was one of the most flamboyant, eccentric Welshmen during the Victorian era, and became a pioneer in the legalisation of cremation in Britain
His father, also named William was an ordained priest in the Church of England, and had studied at Jesus College, Oxford, whilst his mother, Mary Edmunds (1767–1844), was an uneducated Welshwoman who had been a maidservant prior to her marriage. Their marital union was controversial because Mary was of a lower social standing than William, something which was socially taboo in late 18th century British society. The couple went on to have three surviving children, Elisabeth (1793–1872), Mary (1797–1869) and Ann (1804–1878), prior to William’s birth.
Following his son’s birth, the Reverend Price began suffering from a mental illness, acting erratically and experiencing fits of violent rage. He used to bathe either fully clothed or naked in local ponds, and collected snakes, which he would keep in his pockets for several days at a time. He was also known to carry a saw around with him, for the purpose of removing bark from trees, which he would then burn whilst muttering certain words, whilst he similarly used to spit onto stones that he collected, believing that it improved their value. His actions led to him becoming a threat to other members of the local community, in one instance firing a gun at a woman whom he claimed was taking sticks from his hedgerow, and in another case hurling a sharp implement at another man, narrowly missing him.
Although William only stayed at school for three years, between the ages of ten and thirteen, he passed most of his exams and proved himself to be a successful student
In 1814 at the age of 13 he traveled to Caerphilly in South Wales and became an apprentice to Dr Evan Edwards, a successful surgeon. William’s tuition was paid for by various family members including his uncle the Reverend Thomas Price of Merriot, Somerset, who advised him to give up this education, arguing that it was putting too great a financial strain upon Price’s family, but William was insistent that he should continue.
Later in 1820, he located to London where he acquired lodgings near St Paul’s Cathedral, and attended The London Hospital in Whitechapel where he studied for a year, along with registering with St Bartholomew’s. He eventually became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, passing his examinations within 12 months.
He returned to Wales becoming a General Practitioner in Nantgarw, Treforest and Pontypridd and became a close friend of the Guest family, and gave a speech on Welsh history and literature at their Royal Eisteddfod in 1834, which Lady Charlotte Guest felt to be “one of the most beautiful and eloquent speeches that was ever heard”. On the basis of it, he was invited to take up the job of judging the Eisteddfod’s bardic competition, with the prize being awarded to Taliesin, the son of the famous Welsh nationalist and Druid, Iolo Morganwg.
He was also close friend to Francis Crawshay, of the well known Crawshay family of Cyfarthfa Castle and Ironworks.
To encourage the revival in Welsh culture, he gave lessons every Sunday in the Welsh language, which he feared was dying out with the spread of English. In 1838 he also called for the Society to raise funds to build a Druidical Museum in the town, the receipts from which he believed would be used to run a free school for the poor. He was supported in this venture by Francis Crawshay, but did not gain enough sponsors to allow the project to go ahead. In anger, he issued a statement in a local newspaper, telling the people that they were ignoring “your immortal progenitors, to whom you owe your very existence as a civilised people.”
His social activities led to him become a significant figure in the local Chartist movement, which was then spreading about the country, supporting the idea that all men should have the right to vote, irrespective of their wealth or social standing. Many of the Chartists in the industrial areas of southern Wales took up arms in order to ready themselves for revolution against the government, and Price himself aided them in gaining such weaponry, and according to government reports, by 1839 he had seven pieces of field artillery. That same year, the Newport Rising took place, when many of the Chartists and their working class supporters rose up against the authorities, only to be quashed by soldiers, who killed a number of the revolutionaries. Price himself had recognised that this would happen, and he and his supporters had not joined in with the rebellion on that day. Nonetheless, he also realised that the government would begin a crackdown of those involved in the Chartist movement in retaliation for the uprising, and disguised as a woman, he fled to France.
Whilst visiting the Louvre museum in Paris, France he experienced what has been described as “a turning-point in his religious life.” He became highly interested in a stone with a Greek inscription that he erroneously felt depicted an ancient Celtic bard addressing the moon. He subsequently interpreted the inscription as a prophecy given by an ancient Welsh prince named Alun, declaring that a man would come in the future to reveal the true secrets of the Welsh language and to liberate the Welsh people. Price felt that this prophecy applied to him, and that he must return to Wales to free his people from the English-dominated authorities.
He returned in 1840 and set up a medical practice combining holistic, and his version of druidism, where he attracted a number of followers. He also set up home with Ann Morgan of Pentyrch who bore him his first child in 1841, a girl, named Gwenhiolen Larlles Morganwg meaning ‘Gwenhiolan, Countess of Glamorgan’.
Returning to his long held idea of building a museum and school at Pontypridd, a local landowner, Sir Benjamin Hall, who wanted to encourage the revival of Welsh culture, allowed him to use his own land, although Price and the Halls subsequently fell out and the project was scrapped. Left with debts from the aborted project, Price once more escaped to France in 1861. Around this time, he began writing to the national press, making exaggerated statements about himself and Welsh history, for instance claiming that he was Lord of the Southern Welsh and that “All the Greek Books are the Works of the Primitive Bards, in our own Language!!!!!!!… Homer was born in the hamlet of Y Van near Caerphili. He built Caerphili Castle… the oldest Books of the Chinese confess the fact!!”
In 1866 he again returned to Wales, where he found his daughter had grown up and left to live her own life following the death of her mother Ann Morgan.
He settled in Ty’r Clettwr, Llantrisant where he opened up a new medical practice, which proved to be a success. However, his continuous eccentric behaviour saw him in and out of the courts, where on one occasion he was accused of the manslaughter of a patient.
Dressed in a royal tartan shawl he conducted his own defence, as he had extreme knowledge of the law. He won his case and was acquitted.
It is also reported that he performed a caesarean birth on a kitchen table, delivering the heir to a local ironmaster. It is well known that he was a close friend of Francis Crawshay and was also the doctor for the Hirwaun ironworks of which Francis managed on behalf of his father.
At his home in Llantrisant, he took as his partner 21 year old Gwenllian Llewelyn, a farmer’s daughter from Ruthin. Despite his earlier pronouncements against marriage, he organized a Druidic wedding ceremony through which he married Gwellian on 4 March 1881 at the Rocking Stone in Pontypridd.
In August 1883 he became a father for the second time, when Gwenllian gave birth to a boy who they named Iesu Grist Welsh for Jesus Christ. Dr. Price was 83 years old at the time.
On January 10th 1884, just 5 months old, the child died. On Sunday 13 January Dr. Price took the dead body up to the hilltop on East Caerlan where he began chanting druidic law before cremation took place.
Villagers leaving the local church service were astonished by what they were witnessing, and while some tried to drag the body from the flames others attacked Dr. Price. The commotion led to him being arrested.
The child’s body was recovered and an autopsy was performed by a local doctor, who concluded that the child had died of natural causes and had not been murdered. Price was therefore not charged with infanticide, but was instead tried in a Cardiff courtroom for performing cremation rather than burial, which the police believed to be illegal.
The trial took place in March, where the interest had spread all over the country.
Dr. Price once again conducted his own defence, being a showman who played to the gallery at Cardiff Crown Court.
Price argued that while the law did not state that cremation was legal, it also did not state that it was illegal. He claimed “It is not right that a carcass should be allowed to rot and decompose in this way. It results in a wastage of good land, pollution of the earth, water and air, and is a constant danger to all living creatures”.
The judge, Mr. Justice Stephen, agreed. Price was freed, and returned to Llantrisant to find a crowd of supporters cheering for his victory. On 14 March, he was finally able to give his son a cremation involving his own personal Druidic prayers.
The case set a precedent which, together with the activities of the newly founded Cremation Society of Great Britain, led to the Cremation Act of 1902.
In 1885 the first official cremation took place at Woking, and ten cremations are recorded as being performed in the following year. In 1892 a crematorium opened in Manchester, followed by one in Glasgow in 1895 and one in Liverpool in 1896.
Before his death Price fathered two more children, a son named Iesu Grist who was later renamed Nicholas, and a daughter Penelope Elizabeth.
Dr. William Price died at 9pm on Monday 23rd January 1893 where his last words stated were said to have been, ‘Give me champagne.’
His body, as he had instructed, was cremated on the same hilltop as that of his late son, where it is said up to 20,000 onlookers assembled to watch the procedure of which saw the coffin set alight during a day long festival.

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