There is no house in England like Conishead. The priory has long gone. What we see today is a fantasy originally created by Colonel Thomas Richmond-Gale-Braddyll to a Gothick design by the little known Philip Wyatt in 1821. The house is an exercise in pure show, set in a splendid park on the Furness peninsular.
The house changed hands many times. In the 1880s it became a luxurious ‘hydropathic hotel’ with resident orchestra and thousand-volume library. In the 1920s it was converted into a miners’ convalescent home. By the 1970s it faced demolition.
Salvation came in the unusual form of a Mahayana Buddhist community from Tibet, who bought the building in 1976.
The quotes are from Simon Jenkins’ ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’, which along with its companion volume on Churches make an indispensible reference guide to where to go and what to see.
It’s a bizarre gothic confection of a building, a crazy hotch-potch of styles and materials.
Wyatt designed, apparently at random, a chaotic series of gables, turrets and facades, some in brick, some in render.
The Buddhist community welcome visitors. They even have a cafe and a shop. We were on a flying visit, an appetiser for an afternoon expedition to Roa Island (of which, more to follow!) and shall have to return for a wander around the grounds and a walk down to the beach.
We did find time, however, to have a look inside the Kadampa Temple for World Peace, which houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha cast in the West.