A plaque has been unveiled at Rudry Parish Hall to mark the nearby birthplace of the radical, eccentric and pioneering doctor William Price.
Born in 1800 at Ty’n-y-coedcae Farm, in Waterloo, the GP is best-known for his pioneering work in making cremation an entirely legal practice. But he was also many more things – a Chartist, a heretic, an Archdruid and of course a surgeon.
There was also his work in creating an embryonic social healthcare service for workers.
Poverty-stricken in his youth, Dr Price’s father was an insane priest and yet from this tough background, Price remarkably went on to study medicine and became a surgeon in London at the age of just 21.
In 1923, after returning to Wales, he was befriended by the rich Crawshay ironmasters and gained the role of surgeon of works at their Treforest Tinplate Works. He also became physician to the workforce of the neighbouring Brown Lenox Chainworks in Pontypridd.
It was here he created a revolutionary way of workers paying for their healthcare.
Brian Davies, the former curator of Pontypridd Museum, explained: “He was a remarkable man, he supported free education for the poor, he funded the first local Co-operative store, he operated an NHS-style business model in his doctors surgery for 50 years, supported the movement for social reform and was a pioneer in medicine, to name but a few of his many contributions to society.
“It is vital that historical figures are remembered and commemorated and I am thrilled that Dr Price’s Green Plaque will feature near his birthplace in Waterloo.”
As an Archdruid he believed burying the dead polluted the earth, but his spiritual belief had a beneficial impact on public health.
On his 83rd birthday he held a druidic open air marriage with his 22-year-old housekeeper Gwenllian Llewellyn of Cilfynydd.
They had a son named Iesu Grist, the Welsh for Jesus Christ, with Price claiming the boy was the new druidic Messiah. However, Iesu Grist died aged five months in January 1884.
Price’s actions to break a social taboo and cremate the body on a hill in his new hometown of Llantrisant caused widespread notoriety in the international press.
The surgeon was tried at a Cardiff courtroom after police arrested him for what they believed was an illegal corpse disposal. His son’s body was rescued from the pyre before it was engulfed by the flames.
A local doctor performed the post-mortem and concluded the child had died of natural causes – meaning Price would stand trial for performing cremation and not for killing the child.
Price decided to conduct his own defence and argued that cremation was neither legal or illegal. The judge in the case agreed, and Price was set free with his success used as a basis to pass the Cremation Act of 1902.
He later went on to cremate his son in a Druidic ceremony and was cremated after his own death nine years later in 1893. The pre-arranged open air cremation welcomed more than 20,000 people to Llantrisant.
The rise in the number of cremations following the Act meant a decline in diseases such as smallpox and typhoid. Church yards were overcrowded and unregulated and were causing outbreaks of diseases with their shallow graves. With less people being buried, public health began to improve.
It was after his return to Wales from London that Price began a life-long obsession with neo-Druidism – a cult influenced by the fabricated manuscripts of Welsh historian Iolo Morganwg.
Along with his fellow druids, Price practised his faith religiously on Pontypridd’s famous Rocking Stones where he masterminded the idea of creating the first Museum of Welsh Life.
All that is left of the failed project are two striking gatehouses, better known as Glyntaff’s Round Houses which have become an iconic part of the local landscape.
Price was also the leader of the Chartist movement in this part of South Wales.
Although he didn’t march on Newport in 1839, following distrust between himself and John Frost, the Welsh Leader of the Chartist movement, Price was a militant individual who armed himself with a cannon.
Fearing persecution from authorities following the Newport march, Price went into exile in France.
He returned months later to continue his work with the Chartists by creating the Ponty-y-ty-Pridd Provision Company, the first known Cooperative Society in Wales and pre-dating the recognised original society of this kind by almost 20 years.
Trials for perjury and manslaughter along with a delight in Welsh language and culture for which he was considered a master scholar, Price was clearly a maverick, rebellious character.
Whether it was his efforts to support a National Eisteddfod in Wales, raise funds to build a second bridge over the River Taff at Pontypridd, mix with the gentry in champagne balls and study Eastern Religions, Greek and Egyptian obelisks and hieroglyphics with the outlandish Francis Crawshay, Price never had a quiet year to reflect on his achievements.
When he wasn’t fighting for better wages and improved health care for the working man, he was defending the plight of the unmarried mother.
A believer in vegetarianism and free love, he fathered several daughters in his middle age, always hoping for a first-born son that he prophesised would eradicate Christianity from Britain and return the Druidic religion to prominence.
After the death of his son Iesu Grist, Price had a second son who he also named Iesu Grist. However after his death, Price’s wife remarried and renounced her Drudic beliefs for a more conventional Christian life with Price’s second son renamed Nicholas.
Price died aged 92 on January 23, 1893, with a glass of champagne in his hand.
The Dr William Price plaque was funded by Ruperra Conservation Trust and Ruperra Castle Preservation Trust and will be erected by Caerphilly County Borough Council as part of the Green Plaque Scheme.
Deputy leader and Cabinet Member Cllr Sean Morgan said: “The Green Plaque Scheme is run by the Museums and Heritage Service based at the Winding House Museum and it is designed to commemorate people, buildings and events which have a strong association with Caerphilly County Borough.
“I am pleased that we have been able to recognise the contribution of Dr William Price an interesting historical figure.”