The Star-studded Story of Maidstone Zoo

May 2024

 Crowds thronged the County Town’s pavements when Lizzie the Elephant paraded down Maidstone High Street in 1940.  This unusual sight was just one way that charismatic Sir Hugh Garrard Twywhitt-Drake, Mayor of Maidstone several times and Kent County Councillor, promoted his zoo at Cobtree Park. 

The fascinating story of this popular attraction that drew hundreds of thousands between 1934, when it was opened by Bertram Mills, and its closure in1959 was told by Ivan White. His talk hosted by Maidstone Museums’ Foundation attracted a record audience of nearly 50 to the Museum Friends’ Shop in Fremlin Walk on Thursday May 9, 2024. They heard about the bears, lions, camels, llamas, Chinese tigers, vultures and other creatures that populated the zoo. Opening ceremonies were star-studded affairs.  Over the years, celebrities of the day John Mills, Stanley Holloway, Fay Compton, Elsie and Doris Waters (better known as Gert and Daisy, the names also given to two elephants), Gracie Fields, local resident Richard Hearne – Mr Pastry – and glamorous dancers from London’s Windmill Theatre wowed the crowds. After each ceremony, VIPs would go to Cobtree Manor House for afternoon tea with Sir Garrard, who had transferred his early love of circus to Maidstone Zoo, and  his wife Lady Edna. 

It was not all happy news. A young lad was killed by a bear and a hand-reared lion cub being fed by a member of staff bit off the tip of her finger. During the Second World War, protestors claimed the animals were being fed ahead of people, even though most of the feed was unfit for human consumption. And a doodlebug caused damage near the zoo grounds. But enterprising Twywhitt-Drake, his keepers, devoted staff and numerous animals were the real stars of this story which Ivan paused in 1944 and will continue next year. 

MMF Talk The Star-studded Story of Maidstone Zoo
The Star-studded Story of Maidstone Zoo