The Physician, Welsh nationalist and Neo-Druid Dr William Price (1800 –1893) could and perhaps should be considered to be the father of modern British cremation.
Dr Price was certainly unusual, even by the standards of the day and on the eccentric-meter firmly in the red zone. However what is even more interesting is his place in the story of cremation.
He was a big proponent of the ancient religion of the druids. And when his son whom he named somewhat controversially Iesu Grist (the Welsh for Jesus Christ) died at the age of five months. Rather than bury him as was custom, he choose to build a funeral pyre and cremate him, in the belief this would not pollute the earth.
When the locals saw what was afoot, they set upon him and he had to be rescued by the local police. His son was removed before the fire engulfed him and Price was arrested. Whilst it was soon discovered Price had not killed his own son, he was charged with the illegal dispose of a corpse. Price won the ensuing court case successfully arguing that whilst the law did not state that cremation was legal, it also did not state that it was illegal.
After release he went onto cremate his son which was accompanied by Price’s own version of a druid ceremony. This set a precedent that together with the activities of the recently formed Cremation Society of Great Britain led onto the first official cremation in 1885 which took place at Woking in Surrey and set the foundations for the Cremation Act of 1902.
Price and his wife went on to have two more children his second son was also named Iesu Grist (whom he believed was set to achieve great things), and a daughter whom he named Penelopen.
William Price died in 1893 and in accordance with his will, he was cremated on a pyre of two tons of coal overlooking the small Welsh city of Llantrisant. It was attended by 20,000 spectators and mourners, and overseen by his family.
As a postscript it is fascinating to learn that his wife gave up the whole ‘druid thing’ and went onto marry a council road inspector, baptising her children and renaming Jesus to Nicholas, now that is a shame.