Ulverston's Conishead Priory is not your typical grand manor house and it is quite fitting that an estate that has had so many various lives is now re-incarnated as a Buddhist meditation temple.

The gothic revival country house that now houses Europe's largest bronze Buddha has seen centuries of both serenity and turmoil.

The priory's story begins as far back 1160 with the present building stands on the site of a twelfth century Augustinian Priory and was founded as  a hospital for the ‘poor, decrepit, indigent and lepers’ of Ulverston by Gamel de Pennington.

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Ran by The Order of Saint Augustine, a religious mendicant order of the Catholic Church, they ate and slept under one roof, living a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience.

It was in 1811 that the building was upgraded to the status of a priory and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

So much so, one of her girdles was kept at Conishead as a holy relic.

The Mail: The carpeted hallway and vaulted ceilings of the Priory in the early 20th centuryEndowments brought into the Priory caused conflicts with another local spiritual haven, Furness Abbey, and a rivalry continued for many years. 

In 1537, King Henry VIII's Dissolution of Monasteries saw the building torn down.

The property then changed hands several times and was at point owned by William Stanley, Lord Mounteagle, whose son discovered the gunpowder plot.

In 1878, the home saw life as a hydropathic hotel and became The Paradise of Furness.

The Mail: The lounge in Conishead Priory - time unknownIt was then bought by the Durham Miners Welfare Committee in 1928 for use as a convalescent home by patients from the Durham coalfield.

The building then played a vital role in World War II, when Conishead became the largest military hospital in the north west with a capacity of 400 patients.

When the miners' tenure came to an end, the property remained completely empty for five years until 1976.

The Mail: SUMMER: Ice cream in the sunshine at Conishead Priory in 1994

The Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre returned once again to its spiritual roots.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche, the founder of Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre at Conishead Priory, died at the age of 91 in September 2022.

The centre is now open to visitors who are free to explore the temple, grounds and cafe with guided tours available during the summer months.