Saturday, 26 November 2011

William Price (4/4/1800 - 23/1/1893) - Unconventional Welshman.

painting by A.C Hemming in 1918
held in Wellcome Collection,

I currently live in the present and hopefully the future, but often visit the past for inspiration, especially to those before us  who have gone wild with their ideas.
One individual that I have recently been fascinated by is one Dr William Price. Archdruid, healer, political activist, non-conformist, vegetarian, animist, cremator, and abundant dreamer of schemes.
Born in 1800 to an Anglican clergyman in the village of Rudry , Monmouthshire he became a radical in almost everything he did.
From his early days he displayed signs of an evident refusal to obey societies so called norms, often roaming naked across the mounrains close to his home. By the age of 20 he was fluent in many languages and his journey towards a life of rebellion was formed. In addition to being an incredibly forward thinking vegetarian who also oppsed practices such as vivisection and vaccination, he believed in equality between men and women, a believer in the abolition of marriage ( which he considered as enslavement of women), he was also an advocate of conservation.
At 20 he went to London where he was admiitted to the Royal Colege of Surgeons, and after gaining his accreditations returned to Potypridd in Wales where he became a General Practitioner and physician.He formed what could be considered   an embryonic National Health Service, for local workers, concentrating on causes, not symptoms, charging his patients only when he failed to cure them, ( he did however not treat patients who he knew smoked ) and washed every coin he recieved. An advocate of herbal remedies, he dispensed his own potions to the sick under his care.

A photograph of Dr.Price taken in 1844.

He became an early supporter of the Chartist cause,( and was a probable member of the daughters of Rebecca)  recognising their uncompromising demand for a new social order, and the concept of equal right. Price aided the rebellion with financial support and armoury,playing a part in the planning of the Chartist rising in Newport in 1839, but on its failure he escaped to France, where he experienced a kind of spiritual epiphany. On his return to Wales in 1840 he still supported the cause and set up one of the first co-operative stores in Wales. He was known for his dislike of capitalist coal owners and the all powerful local gentry, supporting revolutionary republicanism.  Whilst in France he had been inspired and been drawn to the words of the great French Anarchist Proudhon. However  he had   also been drawn to the old druidical mysteries , writing his own take on the subject in his own invented Welsh, in a book called 'Gwyllis yn Nawd' translated as ' The Will of My Faith'. He tried to revive what he saw as the religion of the ancient druids and founded a Druidic group  and attracted a few followers. He took to wearing green trousers and fox fur hat, growing his beard and hair long. What a site to behold in conventional Victorian  Britain. Raging against the world he once wrote ' there are two worlds, rhe world the master and the world of the slave... there can never be peace untill the world of the mansion, the master and the exploiter is abolished.' He was also an advocate of the Welsh Language and the cause of nationalism.
He began having a relationship with a young woman named Ann Morgan, who in 1842  bore him a daughter. He baptised the child himself at the Rocking Stone in Pontypridd, naming her Gwenhiolan Iarlles Morganwg, ( Gwenhiolan, Countess of Glamorgan). He started holding various druidic events in the area and in 1855 led a parade through the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, accompanied by a half-naked man calling himself Myrddin( the Welsh name for Merlin) and a goat! There was an air of performance about him.
Frequently raging against authority, he became involved in various litigations,and got into a bit of financial dissaray and off he popped to France for a while.
His story does not end here however and in 1866 he returned to Wales, (in the meantime his daughter had grown up)  where he continued his work as a G.P.   In 1873 he settled in Llantrissant where he was joined by his 16 year old housekeeper- Gwenllian Llewellyn. Into his 80's he succumbed to matrimony in a druidic ceremony of his own making and they had a child that he called Iesu Crist Price ( Jesus Christ)  unfortunately after 5 months the baby had died. He was devastated and believing the child was destined to restore the earth 'lost secrets of the druids' he took the body to Caerleon Field, near Llantrisant, where he decided that to bury a body was a desecration of the earth and decided to cremate it instead. He was arrested with illegal disposal of a body, but in court he argued that while the law did not state that cremation was legal, it did not in fact state that it was illegal. He won the case and  returned to Llantrisant on14th March 1894,  in order to cremate his son, involving his own Druidic prayers, thas paved the way for the 1902 Cremation Act. He had fought the law and the law had lost.

Lithograph, 19th Century.

A maverick who helped shape our world. He had 2 further children Iesu Crist 11 and a girl called Penelopen. He died on the 23th of January 1893, in Llantrisant and his body was cremated, as he had instructed on two tons of coal in front atop a the hill where his son had been cremated, in front of a crowd of 20,000.
His last words were ' Bring me a glass of Champagne' ( his favourite tipple had been cider)
Along with Iolo Morganwg ( see earlier post of mine ) -I think he could be considered in line for the title of one our nations greatest living, his legacy, powerful and impessive. Measured in distant history, there is fire, as restless voices still rise. Eccentric or visionary , you decide. He was no ordinary man. A life of adventure and revolutionary abundance. Long may we remember him.

Dr William Price's Cremation.

Further Reading:-

A welsh heretic - Islwyn Ap Nicholas , Ffynon Press , (1973)

Dr William Price: Saint or Sinner - Cyril Briegirdle (1997) Gwasg Garrig Gwalch.

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