The beautiful and calming grounds of Conishead Priory were due to open their gate to visitors in August 1996 as part of the annual Summer Festival.

All visitors would be allowed to stroll through the impressive late Georgian mansion built by Colonel Braddyll from 1821 to 1863 at a cost of £140,000.

It was near collapse when sold for £70,000 in 1976 to become the Manjushri Buddhist Centre.

Yvan Patel, 18, moved from Sussex to the centre seven years later.

Yvan, called Samten Kelsang in 1996 after being ordained a monk, said: "It was pretty derelict even then.

"In the main building you could see the sky."

Lack of funds hampered restoration work, but Samten had seen the building gradually restored with income from courses, fundraising events, donations and the two-week Summer Festival.

Up to 1,200 visitors were expected for the event, which was due to start on August 2.

The centre was trying to finish the roof of a new temple in the grounds in time for the festival.

The festivals were started a few years previously to give people a meaningful holiday.

"Most people go somewhere, spend a lot of money and come back with sunburn, poorer and maybe a little bit sick," said Samten.

"But after lessons and teachings they arrive home with some inner spiritual wealth."

Samten, who had devoted his life to the teachings of Buddha, said that residents were helping with the new temple and all materials came from the area. Indeed, a resident architect designed the new building.

As a monk one of his vows was to try to live a simple life.

"I try to devote my life to meditation and also trying to help others through teaching and spiritual guidance.

"At the moment Western society has a material wealth but a great deal of mental suffering," he said.

Pointing to an original wood carving bearing the Braddyll family motto Cognoies Toy Mesme (Know Your Mind), Samten said: "It seems to go along with us being here."