The Madyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre, part of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) within Tibetan Buddhism occupies the former Kilwick Percy Hall, in Pocklington, near York, and 42 acres of surrounding land. The building is predominantly Georgian and is Grade II* listed. However, we were informed that the origins of a building on this land stretch back further into English history (and include a mention in the Domesday Book). The earliest part that is currently still standing, the basement, was built in 1574.
Kilnwick Percy Hall and the surrounding grounds were significantly redeveloped in 1720, and again in 1840, passing to different families during this period. The house itself was occupied by the Government during the Second World War and, as a result, was also significantly adapted. Interestingly, just prior to the Second World War, the house was again re-modeled, including severing in two the large, central staircase, and relocating it to the side of the house. We were told that this was done to raise funds, as half of the staircase was sold locally, and made into furniture. I joked on twitter, some months ago, that alongside the much-loved warehouse stairs in Manchester Buddhist Centre, this split staircase is certainly in my top ten favourite staircases in Buddhist centres in England!
The NKT bought the house in 1986. It had previously redeveloped a large house in the Lake District, and was looking to open another centre. Madhyamaka is one of 1,000 NKT centres worldwide. When the NKT took over the building, it was in a significantly dilapidated state. They undertook their renovations predominantly with volunteer labour, but have worked with professionals (including heritage professionals), particularly in advising on the renovations of particular aspects of the building, including the wooden floors in the entrance hall and the large, external stone pillars. They also used professionals for tasks such as the replacement of the sixty-year old boiler system. However, volunteer support is vital, and in order to keep up with the maintenance, the NKT run week-long work weeks where volunteers will come and live in the building and assist with the tasks that need to be achieved.
In renovating this building for use as a Buddhist centre, the NKT placed a great deal of emphasis on sympathetic restoration of the house, including in the large former ball-room which has particularly ornate decorative features. The house and the surrounding grounds remain open to the public, and the focus here is both on the history of the house and it’s current usage. Given the age and historic significance of the house, an on-going issue for this community is appropriate, and skilled, maintenance and meeting the costs of heating bills in particular. The NKT fundraise for this purpose, and also have a number of businesses integrated within the house and grounds which also provide an income, including a gift-shop, a World Peace Café, and a Bed and Breakfast.
The building currently has a number of uses for this community. There are approximately thirty long-term residents, both lay people and ordained monks and nuns, alongside Buddhists who also rent the flats in the building and the three cottages in the grounds. The building hosts a number of meditation classes and courses and festivals and retreats, which attract a national and international audience. The community also has a particular focus on family involvement, running children’s meditation classes and mothers and children’s groups, as well as an annual family retreat. The building is significant to the NKT as it was the second Centre that was adapted, and was referred to as a ‘hub’, both for activity, but also training teachers that later went on to start additional Buddhist centres and meditation groups. The community typically adopts the term ‘Meditation Centre’ when referring to Kilnwick Percy Hall, although occasionally use ‘temple’ in addition. Tibetan words such as ‘gompa’ are used less frequently, and when they are, it is generally only between the residents.
Additionally, the NKT also uses the building for a number of ‘non-Buddhist’ purposes, including being open for people who want to walk around the grounds, see the house and use the café, regular history tours, and an annual summer fair – retaining the traditions of a large country estate. The rooms can also be hired out by non-Buddhist groups. There is a strong sense that the NKT wants the building still to be very much part of the local community, and it appears that much effort is expended to foster strong connections.