On this day – 4th March 1800
118 years ago yesterday, Dr William Price was born. Here, our volunteer Gina explores more about the enigmatic physician.
4th of March 1800 – Dr William Price was born
William Price was a Welsh physician known for his support of Welsh nationalism and involvement with the Neo-Druidic religious movement. He became a fully qualified surgeon by the age of 21 and has been recognised as one of the most significant figures of 19th-century Wales.
What is William Price’s link to Pontypridd?
After training to become a doctor, Price returned to Wales to establish himself in the medical profession in Glyntaf. However, he only remained in the area for a few years before he moved to the newly industrialised Taff Valley, near Pontypridd. He was later recognised for his talent by his colleagues and was elected ‘Chief Surgeon’ at Brown Lenox Chainworks in Pontypridd. He continued in this position until 1871.
Price’s involvement with Welsh cultural activities lead to his interest in the Neo-Druidic movement. He joined a Neo-Druidic group called the Society of the Rocking Stone, that met at the Y Maen Chwyf stone circle in Pontypridd. By 1837 Price had become one of the groups leading members and worked to encourage the revival of Welsh culture as he feared that key aspects such the Welsh language were being extinguished by the spread the English language.
Price also tried to organise an Eisteddfod in Pontypridd in 1844, however it failed to draw much of a crowd.
Welsh Nationalism and Chartism
Price was a renowned Welsh nationalist. He gave a speech on Welsh history and literature at the 1834 Royal Eisteddfod and even attended the first Grand Eisteddfod of Llangollen in 1858. Lady Charlotte Guest, a family friend of Price’s, declared that his speech was “one of the most beautiful and eloquent speeches that was ever heard”. This resulted in Price being invited to undertake the role of judging the eisteddfod’s bardic competition.
His eccentric behaviour in his later years causes people to forget his other achievements, for example, Price was a significant figure in the local Chartist movement. This was an idea that was spreading throughout the country that supported the idea that all men should wield the right to vote, no matter their economic or social status. Many of the Chartists, especially those within industrial communities located in south Wales, took up arms to ready themselves for revolution against the government, and Price himself aided them in gaining such weaponry. This igniting the rebellion known as the ‘Newport Rising’ that sought to break the current governmental regimes. However, Price knew that the government would soon retaliate and that he would be punished for his involvement in the uprising, so he fled to France, disguised as a woman.
Druidism and Father of Cremation
William Price developed an infatuation with Druidism while in temporary political exile in France. Once he returned to Wales, he established himself as a Druid and founded a Druidic religious group that became relatively popular in the area. There is little information known about the nature of what Price would preach, however, his followers would often carry staffs engraved with figures and letters.
Price would often stage Druidic events, for example, in 1855 he led a parade of Ivorites, a friendly society that upheld a philosophy of Welsh nationalism, through the streets of Merthyr Tydfil. These events were often obscure as in the case of the Ivorites parade Price marched accompanied by a half-naked man who called himself Myrddin (a Welsh variation of Merlin) and a goat.
His obsession with his new-found religion lead to the ceremony of cremation, which he described as committing the body to a ‘cleansing flame’. His first cremation was that of his child’s remains in 1884, despite the Cremation Act not being passed until 1902. After his death, Dr William Price’s remains were cremated in the first pre-arranged open-air cremation in modern British history that had over 20,000 spectators.