Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, a well-travelled and colourful character, was 12 times Mayor of Maidstone. He established a small zoo in the grounds, and achieved importance as a circus and zoo proprietor. He was also known for his business enterprises and public works. He was an eccentric man and it is believed that he had a fascination for the Zebra. He therefore painted black and white stripes on a donkey so he could admire it from his manor.
The Cobtree Estate was set up as a charitable trust in 1951.
Many sources state different dates, but the zoo officially closed to the public 4th october 1959 but the animals remained there untill about 1963 being slowly dispersed to other collections.
After Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake sadly died in 1964, childless, his estate was bequeathed to the people of Maidstone. In 1983 Maidstone Borough Council and Kent County Council decided to develop the 28 acres that were once Sandling farm as a Museum, which opened to the public on the 6th July 1985.