Cobtree Charity Trust

The founder of The Cobtree Charity Trust, Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake had one wish in 1951 that “The grounds and lands of Cobtree Manor, some 300 acres, be used for the benefit of the inhabitants of Maidstone and surrounding neighbourhood in the County of Kent.”

Sir (Hugh) Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake (1881 - 1964)
Sir (Hugh) Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake

Hugh Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake was born in Maidstone in 1881. Sent to Argentina at 18, he spent a year on a cattle ranch and returned with his first wild animal, a puma. On his return, he joined his father’s firm, Style and Winch, eventually becoming the wine and spirits buyer. He spent his spare time building up his collection of animals and working with travelling circuses. He opened Maidstone Zoo at Cobtree between 1934 and 1954 where the public were invited to see his  wild and rare animals and travel round the Park on a light gauge railway.

Sir Garrard was first elected to Maidstone Borough Council in 1912. Between 1915 and 1949 he was Mayor of Maidstone 12 times, High Sheriff of Kent 1956–1957 and served as a County Councillor from 1933–1937. His enormous contribution to the Borough of Maidstone was recognised by Sir Garrard being made a Freeman of The Borough. He was knighted in 1936 in recognition of his public service and charitable work.

A popular, striking man with a genuine interest in the people of Maidstone, Sir Garrard used to ride a horse at the head of the annual Maidstone Carnival procession, used his own horses and carriages for civic events and was a familiar figure around town driving in his yellow Rolls Royce. Maidstone’s most generous benefactor, as well as the Cobtree Estate, he also gave to Maidstone, The Old College Buildings in College Road, land at Ringlestone Estate, Carriages for the Museum and many silver pieces including the Chain of Office for the Deputy Mayor.

Having no children, he and his wife Lady Edna set up the Cobtree Charity Trust to secure the future of the estate. The estate has since become home to Cobtree Manor Park, Cobtree Golf Course, the headquarters of Kent Wildlife Trust (Tyland Barn) and Kent Life museum. The Cobtree Charity Trust owns the freehold interest in the estate, whilst the park is managed as a public open space by the Cobtree Manor Estate Trust in partnership with Maidstone Borough Council. Plans are being drawn up to introduce additional attractions and to encourage greater use of the estate.

The Trustees continue to administer the freehold of the Park through the leaseholder Maidstone Borough Council and are able to support progress with grants. They are also able to make grants from the substantial funds now invested and managed by the Trustees. Currently The Cobtree Charity Trust supports in the region of 60 charitable organisations based in Maidstone and the surrounding area.

The Trust award a Biennial Cobtree Charitable Prize.

In 2016 the prize has been awarded to Kent Wildlife Trust’s (KWT) ‘Wonderful ‘Wordicular’ Wildlife Word Trail’. This project seeks to inspire local young people and the wider community, through the creation of a wildlife-themed literary trail or “wordscape”. Working alongside the Trust and a professional writer, local children will design a walking trail to enliven the existing footpath which links Tyland Barn Visitor Centre and Nature Park with Cobtree Manor Park, encouraging visitors to explore the wild ways that link these sites.Interpretation boards will be installed at either end of the route to introduce and welcome visitors to the trail. Once in place, a community event will be hosted to launch the Wonderful ‘Wordicular’ Wildlife Word Trail to the public.

The next prize will be awarded in 2018.