Home   Gravesend   News   Article

Rosherville Gardens bear pit 'under threat' from the Ebbsfleet Garden City bulldozers

What was once the “EuroDisney of the Victorian age” is soon to be built on, so what is to become of a unique bear pit and other remnants of a bygone age?

Not much, is the fear of history enthusiast Conrad Broadley – although the developers say they are doing what they can to honour the heritage.

Rosherville Gardens, in Crete Hall Road, Northfleet, opened in 1837, and at one point was drawing in a million visitors a year.

Rosie the bear in her pit at Rosherville Gardens
Rosie the bear in her pit at Rosherville Gardens

The landscaped space featured the famous bear pit, an archery ground, a lake, a maze, a lookout tower, a monkey house, acrobats, a dance hall and a cave that would have housed an ‘hermit-type’ actor or fortune teller.

The venue closed in 1914 when the management company went bankrupt, was sold and a factory was built on the grounds.

In recent years the site was levelled to prepare the ground for new building, and the bear pit was discovered.

The only known brick-built bear pit in the country, it was given Grade II-listed status in 2014, protecting against development.

Conrad Broadley at the Rosherville Quay Cavern tea room site
Conrad Broadley at the Rosherville Quay Cavern tea room site

Photographs exist showing Rosie the bear in the circular brick pit with iron railings keeping her away from visitors.

Now developer Keepmoat has put in a planning application, which means 700 hundred homes, a school and a shopping complex could be built on the surrounding area – coined Northfleet Embankment East – as part of the next stage in the Ebbsfleet Garden City development.

In the outline application the plans simply detail a plaque to commemorate the site where the pit lay.

But Mr Broadley, a project manager and conservation enthusiast from Dover Road, Northfleet, said: “There are only five surviving bear pits in England, all of them are Grade II listed because of their national importance.

Where Rosherville Gardens used to be
Where Rosherville Gardens used to be

“Four are on display and treasured. Only one of them is still buried with a proposal for a tombstone to say ‘the bear pit is buried here’.

“The site was once the EuroDisney of the Victorian age.

“In Ingress Park the old buildings and follies have been restored. I want to see that happen here.

“Nobody is going to visit a patch of ground with a sign on it, but people will come to see the pit and other sights.”

The 49-year-old father added: “It’s about preserving our history, it just needs a little bit of imagination.”

Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens
Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens

Other discovered garden structures which could be restored are the Cavern Tea Room and stairs used by the visitors waiting for the next steamship to take them back to London, the cliff-top entrance and the entrance to the hermit cave.

Also on this site is a Labyrinth air raid shelter used by the workers who built the Pluto Pipeline for the Second World Ward Normandy landings.

The building plans for the new village are still in the very early stages, and the developer was keen to reassure the Messenger that more thought would be going into the best way to preserve and commemorate the site’s history.

Clifftop entrance to Rosherville Gardens
Clifftop entrance to Rosherville Gardens

A spokesman for Keepmoat said: “Keepmoat has taken great care to acknowledge the heritage of Northfleet Embankment, including the Victorian Rosherville Gardens and the industrial heritage of the site at the former WT Henley cable works.

“We fully understand that there is local and national interest in the heritage of this site, and this has played a big part in the decisions taken when developing the layout of the new homes.

“To this end, we have worked in to the landscaping plans ideas reflecting elements of the heritage, such as an interpretation of the former Italian Garden with special attention given to the protection and restoration of green space at the site of the former bear pit.

“We will also be working to restore the offices of the WT Henley building, and will create a heritage trail on the site to ensure public interest remains alive.”

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More