Cobtree Manor Park has over 50 acres of parkland displaying a diverse and maturing collection of trees and shrubs, standing on the site of the old Maidstone Zoo.
A bit about Cobtree Manor Park
Cobtree Manor Park is a beautiful park with plenty of character. The park is formed of part open country park, part woodland and part parkland garden, all set on a gently sloping hillside with views of the North Downs. If you look round the park, you can still see remnants of the past including a cattle shelter, sheep wash and the Elephant House.
In 2012-13, Maidstone Borough Council used funds generated by the Cobtree Estate to undertake major improvements to the park including a zoo-themed play area, improved car parking facilities, new footpaths, a sculpture trail, and new picnic tables and benches. In 2015, the final phase of the project was completed, creating the new visitor centre and cafe.
History about Cobtree Manor Park
It is likely that the name ‘Cobtree’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘cop’ meaning the ‘top’ or ‘summit’ rather than from the Cobnut tree. The valleys at the foot of the North Downs have been settled and farmed since Neolithic times.
The valleys at the foot of the North Downs have been settled and farmed since Neolithic times. The first known written record of “Coptre” in 1596 title deeds shows that it was part of the state of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Thomas Wyatt was a poet and royal courtier.
The land continued to be farmed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. 19th century maps shows the landscape as a mix of fields, woodlands and orchards. In 1896, Cobtree House was leased to Hugh William Tyrwhitt-Drake who later purchased the house and about 300 acres of surrounding land in 1904 and leased a further 174 acres. The house was renamed Cobtree Manor House, probably as a reference to Dickens as Cobtree had never been a proper ‘manor’.
Hugh William died in 1908 and the estate passed to his son Garrard. Sir Garrard used the land to house his private collection of animals. This area is best known locally as the former site of Maidstone Zoo, which was opened to the public for viewing, Spring to Autumn each year, between 1934 and 1959.
The 1939 programme lists 36 kinds of animal including bears, camel, cheetah, chimpanzee, deer, elephants, kangaroos, lions, llama, yak, zebra and wolves. There were also numerous types of birds, fish and reptiles.
Apart from the exotic animals there was a stud of cream ponies, one of only two in the country. The zoo grew in size – a 1949 site plan shows about 120 cages and paddocks covering about 10 acres.
The zoo finally closed down in 1959 as a result of Sir Garrard’s deteriorating health and rising costs. Most of the animals were relocated to other zoos and only the llamas and cream ponies remained at Cobtree for a few more years.
Having no children of their own Sir Garrard and Lady Edna set up and endowed the Cobtree Charity Trust in 1951.
Cobtree Manor Park was created in the late 1970s by the Cobtree Charity Trust Ltd., working in partnership with the Cobtree Manor Estate Trust and Maidstone Borough Council.