Cobtree Manor Park is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. This delightful country park is a haven for wildlife and nature lovers as well as being a great place for family days out. It also encompasses the popular Kent Life attraction and a golf course and was formerly the site of Maidstone Zoo.
In the mid-16th Century the area in which the park is situated was known as the Allington Castle Estate and included the historic Sandling Farm which is now the site of Kent Life. Originally extending to 461 acres the Allington Castle Estate was owned by Thomas Wyatt. In later years the property’s name was changed to the Cobtree Estate when the Tyrwhitt-Drake family took over its ownership.
In the early years of the 20th Century Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake inherited Cobtree from his father. An eccentric character Sir Garrard travelled extensively and on returning from his travels set up a small zoo in the grounds of his estate. It would appear that his fascination with exotic animals began with the zebra as he is alleged to have painted a donkey with black and white stripes to remind him of his adventures overseas! The zoo flourished – presumably with real zebras in residence – and Sir Garrard became a respected zoo and circus owner.
A hugely energetic man, Sir Garrard’s interests did not stop at zoo animals; he also had extensive business concerns in Maidstone and played an active role in public life being Mayor of Maidstone on no less than 12 occasions. Sir Garrard also collected carriages which he realised would become obsolete as the motor car began to take over from the horse-drawn vehicles he had been used to as a child.
Maidstone Zoo closed in 1959. However, the animals were able to stay at Cobtree until suitable homes were found for them with the last leaving in about 1963 shortly before Sir Garrard’s death the following year. A public spirited and generous man Sir Garrard died childless. Bequeathing his estate to the people of Maidstone he had already gifted his unique collection of carriages to the town when, in 1946, the Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages opened. These remarkable carriages can still be seen today at the museum where, in the true spirit of Sir Garrard, entry is free.
"In researching the history of the Queen's Royal Creme Ponies I stumbled upon this snippit: