Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JANUARY 18th  

On this day in history in 1884, took place the first legal cremation in Britain.

Dr William Price was the first person legally to carry out a cremation, which he did in accordance with his eccentric beliefs. Price was born in 1800, in Pontypridd. As a boy, he used to ramble naked in the countryside, to the consternation of the local inhabitants. Price worked as a doctor’s apprentice in Caerphilly and later studied medicine at London University.  

Upon completion of his studies, Price became a company doctor in the coal mining community in the Rhonda. He alienated his employers by siding with the miners, instigating them to rebellion. After a failed workers’ rising in 1839, he was obliged to leave for Paris.  

In 1846, Price felt it safe to return home. He started practice in Pontypridd, later moving to Llantrisant. Price’s approach to medicine was what we would now call holistic. He used herbal remedies, proposed vegetarianism to his patients and despised inoculations. He believed that the only true god was nature, and established a religion to that effect, appointed himself as Chief Druid.  

In 1883, Price and his housekeeper, Gwenllian Llywelyn, had a son, named Jesus Christ Price. Price believed that the boy would grow up to become a messiah who would restore Druidism, but sadly, the infant died aged five months. Price believed burial to be a sin against the earth and therefore built a pyre of coal on the nearby hillside, upon which cremation would free the soul of the infant to the ether. Having lit the pyre and performed the Druidic lamentations, of his own formulation, Price was interrupted by the constabulary who snatched the partly burned body from the flames and put Price under arrest.  

Price was brought before Cardiff Assizes, charged with the illegal disposition of a body. The court found that any practice was legal unless it was specifically proscribed and therefore the cremation was a legal action. Although cremation had been pronounced legal, it was not until 1902, that the Cremation Act regulated the procedure.  

In 1892, Price and Gwenllian had another child who lived to maturity. Price died in 1893 and, only to be expected, was cremated on the hillside overlooking Llantrisant, observed by twenty thousand spectators. The event made headline news in the next day’s Times report.

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