By Gerald Jarvis
Richard Price was born at Tyn Ton farm on February 23rd in 1723.His father was Rhys Price, a Dissenting preacher. Rhys was considered quite ‘well off’ because on the death of his first wife Mary, he had inherited all her property and money! He was well known for being quick tempered and very fiery: one of the earliest stories told of Richard is that he was reading a book written by a clergyman with differing views from his father, when Rhys Price stormed in, snatched the book from Richard’s hands and threw it into the fire! Young Richard was then subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse.
Richard’s early life in Llangeinor is not too well documented, but we do know that he enjoyed riding and walking in the surrounding mountains. He spent his summers at the farms of several relatives in Southerndown where he learnt to rock climb and swim in the sea, and at Brombil farm, Margam. It was at Brombil that a window pane was discovered with the name ‘Richard Price’ scratched into it.
Although his father was not an approachable man Richard’s mother Catherine was more than able to make up for any awkwardness. Catherine Price was Rhys’s second wife, and by all contemporary accounts “witty, pretty and wise” as the daughter of a Bridgend doctor. Unfortunately her beauty and wit were all she brought to her marriage as she appeared to have had no dowry or property of her own.
Richard was educated at home until he was 10 by a tutor called Mr Peters, a local man; Richard did start at a school in Bridgend but had to be removed because the master was too bad tempered! His first actual school was in Neath where he spent 2 years, and he was then moved to Pentwyn in Carmarthenshire. After he had been there for 3 years he finally ended up in Talgarth, Breconshire,to be educated for the sum of £5.00 per term. His father had hopes of turning him into a merchant.
When he was studying at Talgarth Richard got news that his beloved mother was ill. He then proceeded to walk the 50 miles back home to visit her and then walked back-this was in the dead of winter.
In 1739 Rhys Price died. It was expected that Rhys would have settled any money etc. on his wife and children, but it did not happen in this case. Rhys for some reason left his money and properties etc to his eldest son John by his first marriage. His widow Catherine and her two daughters got nothing, not even the house. Richard, who was 16 at the time, did receive a gift of £400 pounds which he promptly gave over to his two sisters for their education.
Richard continued his education at Talgarth and Pentwyn until he was 18,and after his mother’s death in 1741 he became of a more serious frame of mind and decided to enter into the Ministry.He wrote to an uncle in London for advice and help in his training and was invited to stay. Unfortunately Richard had no means of getting there so he went to his elder brother John Price,who was by now a very prosperous man. John replied “That as you are determined to go to London, then I suppose I will lend you a horse as far as Cardiff”. When Richard got to Cardiff he stabled the horse and continued on to Bristol on foot,and with the help of lifts on carts and coaches he finally reached London.
On arrival in London he took up lodgings above a Barber/Surgeons shop in Pudding Lane,”near to where the fire was”. It was whilst doing this he became more and more interested in Sciences, Mathematics and Calculus, but he was still quite poor and was largely self taught. One time he was given a gift of 10 pounds to purchase a set of pocket globes for an experiment, but Richard sent the money once again to his sisters instead. He often visited his sisters, who by now had moved from Tyn Ton and were living in Parcgwyllt, Bridgend, where he spent his holidays every Autumn and enjoyed the reputation of being a fearless rider,walker and swimmer when visiting friends and relatives at nearby houses and farms.
When Richard finished his studies he got a position as Chaplain/Companion to a Mr Streatfield, a wealthy man with a large family, and became a great friend of them all. It was through the Streatfields that Richard met many influential people of his day who later became lifelong friends. His position gave him opportunities to apply to become a minister at Newington Green which also brought a small income.
In 1756 Richard was further freed from his money worries by two inheritances which enabled him to foster his scientific interests, and furthermore enabled him to marry. His bride was Sarah Blundell, of Belgrave, Leicestershire. She was delicate, and prone to illness, but brought with her a dowry of a £1,000 pounds. By all accounts they were a devoted couple although they had no children, but their house was always full of nieces and nephews visiting.
They moved to a house in Newington Green, London,(which still stands today)and set up home, and it soon became a social hub for free thinkers. Richard corresponded with a great many important people: politicians, revolutionaries, and scientists, about all sorts of subjects, and became more and more involved in writing pamphlets which were embarrassing to the government of the day and also deemed to be anti-royalist, which made Richard as many powerful enemies as he now had powerful friends.
In 1761, Richard was asked to go through the private papers of a dead friend, a Mr Bayes, a mathematician, and Richard discovered that amongst the papers was an unfinished formula for working out life expectancy. Richard finished the work and even improved on it, and presented it to the life assurance companies; they are still used today. A story goes that his hair turned white overnight because he found an anomaly in a very famous mathematician’s work and not only put it right but actually improved upon it.
As a preacher he was often asked to visit other chapels to speak. He became well known in the surrounding districts, because he was always dressed in a black riding outfit and boots sitting astride a one-eyed white pony; the locals used to call out “Hi there! look out for the good Doctor”.
He was described physically as being below middle size, strong-featured, and with an intelligent eye. The only portrait of him was painted when Richard had had a fall from his horse and was incapacitated: he was in a lot of pain when it was painted, as is evident by his expression in the finished work!.
Always immersed in a book, Richard would often take walks in the fields near his home. One day he came home minus his silver coat buttons and shoe buckles and he had no explanation other than he had been ‘mugged’ and he hadn’t noticed!.On another occasion as he was out walking he came across a bird trap with some birds caught in it. He released the birds and walked on, but a little further on he realised that his action could result in someone losing money or even starving by his actions, so he returned to the trap and put some gold coins in it!.
Apart from writing supporting letters and pamphlets on the subject of Liberty and Human rights, Richard Price also involved himself in advising the pre- revolutionary French government in ways to resolve their financial problems. His help was deemed so great that on his death the French National Assembly declared 6 days of National Mourning throughout France.
In 1769 he was made an Honorary Doctor of Divinity by the University of Glasgow. He also joined the Royal Society as a Fellow, and was made a Freeman of the City of London. In this country he was regarded as a dangerous man with his ideas of all men being created equal, and was frequently accused of treason, but that did not stop Prime Minister William Pitt contacting Richard Price and asking him to come up with an idea to solve the National Debt, which was currently standing at £140,000,000. Richard came up with 3 schemes! He advised that the first plan would be the best option but not popular: Pitt however took the ‘easy’ third option to please the voters and even then did not stick to it, and so it failed. Pitt never acknowledged Price’s efforts publicly.(However n 1782 he was offered the post of Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne, but with typical modesty Price turned the offer down.)
In 1773 he wrote a public letter to the American people supporting their cause for Self Government. In it he declared that that they should not submit to ‘taxation without representation’ and that “He would rather throw English tea into the sea than pay an unjust tax upon it to an unjust government”. As a direct result of this letter Americans in Boston boarded three ships: the Eleanor, the Beaver, and the Dartmouth, and threw 45 tons of tea into the harbour!.This action prompted the British government to blockade Boston harbour and start what was to be known as the American Revolution.
Richard Price, despite all his political and religious writings was still a practising Minister of the Church and went every day to preach all over London. It was while riding to church one day that he saw a man struggling in the river; Richard galloped his horse further downstream, dismounted and handed his reins, hat, wig and coat to a nearby angler and dived in and saved the man. When he got him onto the riverbank, Richard discovered that the man had been attempting suicide because he had no money. Richard then gave him his purse and coat, mounted his horse, and continued on his way.
In 1776 he received a letter from the then newly formed American Congress inviting him and his family to take up full American citizenship with a salary and land if he would become their Financial Regulator(Chancellorof the Exchequer).Price turned down this most generous offer declaring himself too old for the travel.
Just after his book on Civil Liberty was published, he was approached by the Duke of Cumberland who stated “Price! I have read your damned book until I am blind!”.Richard responded: “Well my Lord, that is indeed remarkable, for I have been told it has opened the eyes of mankind!”.
Throughout his life Richard Price was never quite satisfied with his preaching abilities; he did not think he had the passion to hold a congregation. Strangely, he also thought that his work with mathematics was frivolous, and that the time spent on some of his writings was ‘mis-spent’.
Sadly, Sarah his wife suffered a stroke in 1783 and was semi paralysed. Richard did all he could to ease her discomfort and spent a lot of time with her, playing cards and talking to her. Sarah died in 1786, and although her death was long expected, Richard was very affected by this for some time.
Richard Price died at home in 1791,and was buried in Bunhill fields cemetery in London. His tomb is as modest as the man it contains, and is still standing.Acknowledgements:
My sources for this information Are The National Library for Wales
A book called A Welsh Family written in 1825
Newington Green website
Bunhill Fields website
Mr M Maddock
A memoir of Dr Price by W Morgan