“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Doctor, Druid and Cremation Pioneer

The statue shown below is a memorial, in Llantrisant, to the Welsh physician William Price (4 March 1800 – 23 January 1893) who is remembered for his eccentric lifestyle and as being the pioneer of cremation in the United Kingdom.

Price was born in Monmouthshire to a father who was a Reverend and whose unusual behavior may have inspired Price's own eccentric ways. Reverend Price suffered from a mental illness and was known to act erratically and experience fits of rage. The madness of Reverend Price saw him conducting a number of unusual activities such as: bathing either fully clothed or naked in local ponds; collecting snakes in his pockets; spitting onto stones to try to improve their value; and carrying a saw with him so that he could remove the bark from trees.

As a young man, Price trained as a doctor in London and after his training he returned to Wales to work as a general practitioner. He eventually became interested in the Chartist movement and their ideals that all men should have the right to vote, irrespective of their wealth or social standing. In 1839 the Chartist movement attempted an armed rebellion against the government, which failed. Whilst Price was not actively involved in this rebellion, his involvement with the Chartist movement necessitated him to flee from the country. So he fled to France, apparently disguised as a woman!

Whilst in exile in Paris, Price visited the Louvre museum and became interested in a stone on display there which sported a Greek inscription. It seems that Price erroneously interpreted this inscription as a prophecy 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 also seemed to assume that the prophecy applied to him, so he decided to return to Wales to free the Welsh people from the English authorities.

On his return to Wales, Price set himself up as a Druid and founded a Druidic group which began attracting followers. In his new calling as a Druid he took to  wearing a fox fur hat and emerald green clothing, and began to grow his beard long and stop cutting his hair. It is in this unusual garb that Price is remembered in the statue shown below.

In 1883 Price fathered a son, who he named Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ in Welsh), apparently to provoke the religious establishment and also because he expected great things from his child. Sadly however, the child died after only five months in January 1884. In his belief that burial polluted the earth and was therefore wrong, Price opted to cremate his son and he created the pyre on the summit of a hill near Llantrisant. It seems that a number of local people noticed the fire and when they discovered that Price was trying to burning his son’s body (cremation was a taboo in 1884), the mob turned on him. The Police eventually arrived and arrested Price for the illegal disposal of a corpse, and they removed the unburnt body from the pyre for medical examination. In court Price managed to argue that while the law did not state that cremation was legal, it also did not state that it was illegal either, and Price was subsequently acquitted of the charges.  On 14 March 1884 Price was finally allowed to cremate his son.

Price’s brush with the law on the issue of cremation paved the way for cremation to become generally accepted in the United Kingdom as a method of corpse disposal. The first official cremation took place in Woking only a year after Price cremated his son.

Price died in 1893 and unsurprisingly he opted to be cremated. His cremation ceremony was apparently attended by 20,000 spectators!

The memorial to William Price in Llantrisant. 

Pictures, Glamorgan (August 2014).

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