64. William Price
Groundbreakers (114 votes)
1800 – 1893
Doctor, self-appointed Archdruid and pioneer of cremation in the Western world.
A vegetarian nudist who believed in free love and herbal remedies sounds more like a product of the 1960’s counter culture than of 19th century Wales.
Yet William Price beat the hippies to it by well over a century and in doing so became one of the most colourful and intriguing figures of his age.
Eccentric he undoubtedly was. As a youth he scandalised prim Llantrisant by going for long walks in the nude. He wore a fox pelt on his head, called his son Jesus Christ (Iesu Grist) and proclaimed himself Arch Druid of a lost Celtic faith.
He trained as a doctor in Caerphilly and London and practiced among the newly emerging mining communities in the south Wales valleys.
He was vigorously anti-smoking, refusing to treat patients who did so. His own herbal potions were dispensed to the sick along with some druidical chanting to aid the process. As a medical practitioner he regarded most of his peers as quacks and one can safely assume the feeling was mutual.
Neither had he any time for coal owners, lawyers or any of the all-powerful local gentry. A convinced republican, he threw in his lot with the Chartists and was forced to flee to Paris after the failure of the Newport rising in 1839.
Many years later, while in his eighties, he met and fell and in love with Gwenllian Llewelyn a young woman many decades his junior. Price christened their son Jesus in a move apparently designed to enrage local churchgoers.
Jesus died in infancy, prompting the act for which Price is most remembered.
On January 18th 1884, he burned the child’s body in front of onlookers on a Llantrisant hillside. Price believed that cremation was in accordance with ancient Celtic practice.
Price was prosecuted but the court ruled in his favour – establishing the legality of cremation once and for all.