The founder of The Cobtree Charity Trust, Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake had in 1951 one wish. 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.” At the inaugural meeting he handed to his first Trustees “a handsome endowment.”
Sir Garrard was without doubt Maidstone’s most generous benefactor. He gave to Maidstone Corporation, as it was then known, 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. From 1915 to 1949 he was Mayor 12 times, High Sheriff of Kent 1956–1957 and served as a County Councillor from 1933–1937. He was knighted in 1936.
Through his love of animals he created Cobtree Park as a well known zoo where the public were invited to see rare animals and travel round the Park on a light gauge railway. His enormous contribution to the Borough of Maidstone was recognised by Sir Garrard being made a Freeman of The Borough.
In 1971 a long lease was agreed between the Trustees of The Cobtree Charity Trust and Maidstone Borough Council to continue the wishes of the founder. Today the Park is used as a Golf Course, The Cobtree Manor Park Golf Club, also the home of The Kent Wildlife Trust and The Museum of Kent Rural Life. Plans are being drawn up to introduce additional attractions and to encourage greater use of the Park.
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 to local charities and organisations. They make annual grants and have recently launched the annual Cobtree Prize
Currently The Cobtree Charity Trust supports in the region of 60 charitable organisations based in Maidstone and the surrounding area, including the Kent Wildlife Trust