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Maidstone Zoo: a recap on history

MAIDSTONE and its surrounding area is rich in history and if there’s a place proving the fact – it has to be Cobtree Manor Park, which is the site of the former Maidstone Zoo, the largest private zoo of its time.

The land near Aylesford was used for farming in the 17th and 18th centuries and it was eventually bought by Hugh William Tyrwhitt-Drake who bought the main house (containing some wonderful chimneys!) and 300 acres of land. The site was considerable in size and included 15 cottages and a riverside wharf amongst other features. The house was given the name ‘Cobtree Manor House’ and it was from here that Sir Garrard, son of Hugh William (who died in 1908) began to formulate his dream of creating a zoo in the heart of Kent.

Sir Garrard [pictured above with a bear] was the mayor of Maidstone 12 times and the High Sheriff of Kent from 1956 to 1957. He was a well-known public figure not just in the town of Maidstone but across the county.

He opened the zoo to the public in 1934 and it soon became popular not only with the public but celebrities of the day: Gracie Fields, Jessie Matthews – even the Queen when she was a princess. Hundreds, if not thousands over the years, enjoyed the array of creatures that included lions, elephants, bears, wolves, zebra. In fact, there were 36 types of animal recorded at the site in 1939.

The zoo survived the war years and flourished with an impressive 120 paddocks and cages recorded in 1949. Facilities included a pets corner for kids, a miniature railway, and pony and elephant rides. The Elephant House is all that remains from the original zoo, which closed in 1959 due to costs and Sir Garrard’s health (he died in 1964). The animals were taken to other zoos.

However, Cobham Manor Park was rebranded as an exciting visitor attraction after the manor park was created in the period of the 1970s, thanks to the hard work of Cobtree Manor Trust and partners. An impressive 600 tree and shrub species were planted, creating a beautiful arboretum and the site today also boasts fantastic play areas for youngsters. Find out more here:  Cobham Manor Park.

If you live in the Maidstone area – book an appointment with the town’s Master Chimney Sweep: James the Sweep!