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Milestones in Welsh Medicine

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Betsi Cadwaladr

From earliest times, Wales has enjoyed an honoured place in the history of British Medicine.

In Llangian churchyard in the Llyn Peninsula there is an ancient stone dating from the fifth or sixth century commemorating Melus, the earliest British doctor whose name we know. Dating back to the 12th century, generations of the ‘Physicians of Myddfai’ made a remote Carmarthenshire village a centre of research and healing centuries before the advent of modern medicine.

Buried in Cilgerran Church, Pembrokeshire, is Thomas Phaer (1510-1560) author of "The Boke of Chyldren" (1544), the first published work in English on childcare. Nearer to the present day, Wales can be proud of Betsi Cadwaladr (1789-1860), pictured above, who, late in life, qualified as a nurse and performed deeds of heroism at Balaclava during the Crimean War, and Dr William Price (1800-1893) who was not only Wales’s greatest eccentric, but also an eminent surgeon, Chartist and the man whose actions led to the legalisation of cremation in Britain. 


Dr William Price
Dr William Price, in typical eccentric pose.


William Price's cremation pyre
Price’s cremation pyre, 1893

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) inspired by the egalitarian principles on which the Tredegar Working Men’s Medical Aid Society had been based, applied socialist zeal and Welsh determination to create the National Health Service in 1948, probably the most far-reaching piece of social legislation in British history.