Today I would like to introduce you to Lazarus Carpenter and his book ‘Ballad of Penygraig’, which has an amazing story behind it. Welcome Lazarus, and please tell us about the concept behind your book. How did you get the idea?
This is the true story of a terrible tragedy that occurred in the village of Pantteg on the 25th February 1850. It is the story of ordinary working folk and how everyday events and accidents between them created havoc and changed the lives of two families forever while entering the annals of the valley’s history. The story was unknown to me and almost forgotten until when in 2004 I moved into Penygraig, ‘The House on the Rock’. Moving to Penygraig provided me with a sanctuary where I sought to recover from fleeting sadness in my life. I needed solitude at this time. Penygraig is three hundred yards up the mountain from the semi detached farmhouse I had previously lived in. Built in the early 1800’s, the cottage is now very isolated and the landscape has changed much in the last 200 years. Once a thriving community, it now lays in ruins midst sparse forest lost in time. Tracks once trodden by horses dragging coal up the mountain to the villages and those that brought Welsh stone from the quarry for building the village are long gone. Also long gone are the Miners Arms, the iron-works, coal mines and the Gough Estate. The New Swan Inn is still here, although no longer used for Coroner’s Inquests and the headstone still haunts the graveyard.
I had a strange experience before moving into Penygraig when I was viewing with the owner. We were sitting in the lounge around early afternoon when twice I started to roll a cigarette in a way that was foreign to me. I remember remarking to the owner, Andy, ‘that was a weird feeling’. Then suddenly I saw a bent figure standing in the doorway in silhouette. The figure looked at me and then seemed to walk off. I told Andy what I had just seen and he was not in the slightest bit surprised, in fact he just seem to take it on the chin as a normal occurrence – a ghost in the middle of the day!
I asked Andy if he knew who the ghost was but he didn’t. He did however acknowledge that there were and had been some strange goings on in the house. He had witnessed some ghostly incidences himself and had one or two tenants in the past who had ended up running down the hill in the middle of the night but he never did find out why. So we left it there and in I moved. Almost as soon as I took up residence, I realized that strange phenomena seemed to be an integral part of the fabric of Penygraig. Admittedly the isolation of the cottage and its general bleakness, especially in the winter, could feed the most furtive and creative of imaginations but some of the things that were to be experienced by me and others could not be explained away in such dull terms.
I often heard voices whispering in the corners of the cottage and on more than one occasion heard the name John Jenkins. Only later was I to understand that it was two names and indeed it was revealed to be the brothers of David Davies, John and Jenkins. In my first winter at Penygraig, Christmas was followed by intrigue as on the 25th February at five o’clock in the evening a loud knock came to my back door but my collie dog did not respond in her usual way of manic screeching and barking. When I answered the door, there was nobody there. Fortunately there were two or three friends in the cottage at the time who witnessed the event so I could not be accused of madness.
On another occasion, a photograph was taken of the garden and when it was viewed, a brick building stood in front of the tree. There was no building there then nor was there at the time the photograph was taken but it is believed that there was some 35 years ago. This was a fact testified to by the owner prior to Andy. She also told me tales of ghostly goings on that occurred when she had lived at Penygraig. Something or someone lived in the attic and it was not mice or any other creature as my cat was a very skilled hunter but noises were often heard as if someone was moving about. Cushions in the living room were often re-arranged and as daft as it may sound, somebody was tidying up and fluffing cushions, but who?
A malevolent presence seemed to haunt the pathway through the sparse forest from the gate up to the top of the hill and opposite the main gate was the graveyard of Pantteg Chapel, where Morgan and Rachael had lain for well over one hundred and twenty five years. I decided with the help of friends to find out who had lived at Penygraig in the past and through the Census we were able to obtain a list of names. Through this work we discovered by accident a grave on the boundary wall between the graveyard and the house next door to where I had recently moved from. It said ..,
‘Here lays the body of Morgan Lewis whose life was taken by a stone thrown by the hand of David Davies.’
In 1850 David Davies had lived with his brothers John and Jenkins in Penygraig. To confuse the story even more, further research through the Parish Records and the Census revealed that Morgan Lewis, the man killed by David Davies along with his wife Rachael and five children had lived in a tied cottage that fronted the garden where I had lived previously, just three hundred yards from Penygraig. All of this was such coincidence. Why, I did not know but it made me take a deep breath. It was on this day that the ‘Ballad of Penygraig’ was born, or rather reborn!
Lying near to the grave of Morgan Lewis where Rachael too is buried, I found to my utmost surprise the headstone of David Davies. It was sheared in half, long ways. I have only been able to find this half. I picked it up from where it had been discarded and placed it against the wall in front of Morgan and Rachael. One of the Elders of the Chapel was kind enough to tell me of the ‘stone in the carved hand’ story. He was a very elderly gentleman but remembers that when he was a boy they played in the graveyard and one of the games was called ‘blood tag’ which involved passing on blood from the stone on Morgan’s headstone to one’s fleeing friends who ran for fear of being clouted by Morgan Lewis. The hand had disappeared over the years and somewhere it may be laying buried in a garden shed or in a loft at the bottom of an old suitcase? I wonder what happened to that sculptured hand with the stone cemented to it and if someone does have that hand, I wonder if they know its history. I wonder if they know about its curse long gone and forgotten. Had I moved into my own ‘Most Haunted’, was I becoming psychotic or was something much bigger at hand? I did not know.
The research began in earnest and more and more coincidences began to emerge. In 1850 the Swansea Guardian published a story entitled ‘Affray in Ystalyfera’. Suddenly I was confronted with the facts about the case and amazed by the coincidences between what I had intuited through the apparitions in the house and what was now in black and white in front of me. My first project included the writing of four songs that told the story, ‘The Hawk Cried on The Moor’, ‘Poacher on The Rock’, ‘The Ballad of Penygraig’ and ‘Rachael’s Lament’. But it was the song ‘The Ballad of Penygraig’ which tells the story from the fight up until its bitter conclusions, that came first. It had taken me a couple of drafts before I was happy with my lyrical content and flow. I also had a tune but there was no last line and for the life of me I could not find one that I was content to use. It was very late at night and advancing through the early hours when I played the tune over and over. One of the advantages of living at Penygraig was that I could make as much noise as I liked, night or day, without the fear of upsetting my neighbors who were well out of ear shot. I played it and recorded the tune and with the aid of my fancy little loop peddle. I struggled on.
At around three in the morning, I was almost at the end of the song but was in need of a final line which thus far was not forthcoming, when I felt a shiver and became aware of the essence of Morgan Lewis standing in front of me. I carried on playing and then sensed Dai Davies on my left. I still carried on playing.
There was no feeling of fear or trepidation, in fact it was like having an audience. However, as I sang the final verse I intuited the line ‘now angels both in flight’. Immediately upon singing these words, there was a bluish flash in the room and the essences of Morgan and Dai were gone. The song was finished. To my knowledge they have never been seen since and I think that the final line illustrates nicely where they went. Since that day I never experienced any further disturbances in the house. Sadly though I eventually had to move out of Penygraig to enable its owner, Andy, to return. He too says the house remained quiet and both he and his children lived peacefully.
I took the song out and played it at a local Open Mic Night. The first time I sang it, I was astounded by the response from the audience, although admittedly it is quite a catchy little ditty. The night when I played ‘The Ballad of Penygraig’ for the first time in public, a dream was born. I had always rattled around on the periphery of music having written a few songs but now I wanted to write and play like I had never wanted anything in my life before.
I was emotionally flat when I moved into Penygraig. I needed sanctuary. No pill or potion could put right what had gone wrong in my life, only I could do that. I guess some may say that I had created, unknowingly or otherwise, some kind of musical exorcism or similar through the experiences and the song. I cannot agree with that because it simply is not true but what I do know is that the blue prints of these characters’ lives and mine for some reason became intrinsically enmeshed at a time when I was a very sad man, unsure of what tomorrow may hold. I feel that whatever happened and for whatever reason, it began to help me free myself from the overwhelming sadness that I had been feeling. Some kind of new direction began to unfurl, giving me a new found confidence and even better, some of the best lyrics and prose I have ever written. So I thank Morgan and Dai most sincerely as I never will be afraid of anything again after this and I will never feel alone in this life or the next. I wonder who exorcised who? And then… the book!
What song would you pick to go with your book?
The song I wrote and recorded myself, ‘The Ballad of Penygraig’. It reached Number 1 in the ReverbNation Folk Charts and stayed there for about six weeks. It also came joint first last year in the Doncaster Folk Festival Song Writing Competition. You can listen to it at
What are you working on now?
I have just completed Volume One of ‘Crach Ffinnant – The Prophecy’, and have now started Volume Two, ‘Crach Ffinnant – Rise of the Dragon’. I have plans for seven volumes in the series. Here is a synopsis.
SYNOPSIS of COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT
‘CRACH FFINNANT’ – VOLUME ONE – ‘THE PROPHECY’
On a chilly spring morning in Gwynedd in the year of 1375, Crach Ffinnant, a dwarf, is knocked sideways when Llywd ap Crachan Llywd, the old wizard, announces to him that his apprenticeship as a healer, prophet and seer, is over. Crach, for the first time in his life, must now leave the safety of their mountain home to fulfil his destiny. Through the prophecy, he learns that one day he is to serve the future Prince of Wales. As with all destinies, Crach has no choice in the matter and accepts his fate with astonishment and grace. With sacred scrolls hidden within his bag, a confused Crach begins the long journey to London to seek out Master Healan who, disguised as an Apothecary, is an old friend of his Master and a Welsh spy in the Court of the English. Guided by Fwynedd the Shepherd, Crach trudges across the mountains to Shrewsbury where he joins a Travelling Circus as a performing dwarf. Adding to Crach’s disguise, his decision to become mute challenges his every step. At a show in Worcester, he meets Owain Glyndwr for the first time. Unexpectedly (or is it?), they meet again some months later in London at Lincoln’s Inn where our Prince in Waiting is studying Law. Of course, at that point in time, neither Crach Ffinnant nor Glyndwr had a clue as to what lay in front of them. Guided by dreams and coincidence, their adventures begin with magic resonating from every nook and cranny as the prophecy unfurls.
Crach has many adventures over the next ten years before he meets with Glyndwr again. He visits the deep caverns of Ffestiniog to seek council from Tany-y-Mynedd the Fire-Dragon and later is accompanied by the mischievous Carron the Raven while riding his trusty mare, Merlina. When they are reunited, Crach becomes Glyndwr’s prophet and seer and they ride side by side for King Richard in Scotland and in Ireland. Upon their return to Wales, all is chaos as Owain, challenged by his brother, Tudur, and the prophecy, must consider his next step. But all is not well, and Crach is summoned by Tany-y-Mynedd the Fire Dragon to attend an important meeting at the Great Council of Blue Stone.
Crach Ffinnant is a wise but comical dwarf who thinks and acts honourably at all times. He is guided by spirituality and wisdom, is clear thinking, with a mystical ability to walk through the ‘worlds’. It is a historical fact that he did truly exist although not a great deal is known about him, other than he rode with Prince Owain Glyndwr as his prophet and seer, guiding him as Merlin did for Arthur. Some events did take place, but the rest is my fantasy.
(Approx 250 pages A5, 89,000 plus words. Each chapter is illustrated by Debbie Eve, my partner. The front cover has been designed and the manuscript includes acknowledgements, a dedication to Crach Ffinnant, historical facts, the lyrics to a song written by me about Owain Glyndwr, author summary and Chapter I – ‘Rise of the Dragon’).
Introduction to ‘CRACH FFINNANT’ – Volume Two – ‘RISE OF THE DRAGON’
(Several Chapters Completed – Overview)
The story continues … Crach and Tany-y-Mynedd arrive at the Great Council of Blue Stone, deep in the ancient magic caverns of Ffestiniog. Wise Druids, wizards, dwarves, goblins, elementals, dragons and spirits from the ‘other world’, gather to debate and unite their powers. Welsh Lords are gathering as Wales approaches the brink of war. The prophecy demands unity from all kingdoms as Wales prepares for the crowning of Prince Owain Glyndwr. In parallel, only four dragons are left alive in Wales, all male. The last female dragon had been killed by the English but was thought to have left her eggs buried deep in an unknown cavern. The remaining dragons hunt for the eggs in an attempt to avoid the extinction of their species. Will Owain Glyndwr become Prince of Wales? Will the dragons survive? Will Crach be able to use his special powers and wisdom to make it all happen?
(This manuscript will be approximately the same length and structure as Volume One. I have outlines for a further five stories in the series, which are: Volume Three – ‘Revenge of the Dragon’; Volume Four – ‘Blind Victory’; Volume Five – ‘The Golden Goblet’; Volume Six – ‘Hide and Seek’; Volume Seven – ‘Dragons in the Mist’.
What is your life like outside of writing?
When I am not writing, I enjoy storytelling and perorming as a folk singer. I love to walk with my partner, Debbie, who is an artist and photographer, and our dog. We live on the border of the Beacons and the beauty of the mountains provides great stimuli for her painting and my writing.
Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?
Morgan Lewis – Rhys Ifans
Dai Davies – Michael Sheen
Rachael Lewis – Erin Richards
Big John – Keith Allen
Jenkins – Tim Vincent
Who are your favourite authors?
George RR Martin
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
Paperback-book – S. J. Parris – ‘Treachery’
What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?
A good supply of paper and pencils
How do you handle criticism of your work?
I welcome criticism as it helps me to grow and perhaps address issues I have not considered previously.
Lazarus Carpenter – April 2016
- Bio – Lazarus Carpenter
Lazarus Carpenter has lived in Wales for over twenty-seven years. Born in North Yorkshire, he is now an actor, musician, song writer and author, previously being a therapist, trainer and researcher, specialising in mental health. He was educated in Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Cambridge. With a fascination for Welsh History, he creates worlds within worlds; magical, haunting, spirituality permeating, sound moral codes of life. He lives quietly with Debbie Eve and their dogs, Hennie and Noodle in a small cottage surrounded by the beauty of the Brecon Beacons in the Valley’s of South Wales.
The following is a radio programme called On the Trail of the Ballad of Penygraig
The following includes readings from the book on Oystermouth Radio