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Bear pit awarded listed status by English Heritage amid calls to restore Rosherville Gardens site in Gravesend

An old bear pit has been listed by English Heritage.

The landmark in Crete Hall Road, Northfleet, has been given Grade II-listed status, giving it protection against development.

The structure, from about 1837, was given the designation, English Heritage said, because it is a “very rare surviving example of a bear pit”.

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

It continued: “The open bear pit and floor survives relatively intact, and its plan, with four attached chambers, remains legible.

“It is similar in date and form, although slightly larger, than the heavily restored Grade II-listed bear pit in Sheffield Botanical Gardens. It is also the only known brick-built example nationally.”

The pit is one of the remaining structures of Rosherville Gardens, which survived until 1914. The gardens were built on a chalk pit, owned by Jeremiah Rosher.

From 1830, Rosher also started building a new town, called Rosherville, taking advantage of Gravesend’s popularity with Londoners visiting for the day by steamboat along the Thames.

Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens
Cafe Chantant in Rosherville Gardens

By 1837 there was a hotel and a wooden pier. Although the Rosherville Hotel and a few Italianate style houses were built, the new town did not develop any further.

The gardens included a terrace, a bear pit, an archery ground, a lake, a maze, flower beds, statues, a lookout tower, and a winding path.

The gardens were originally intended to appeal to wealthy, cultured visitors, but as these never came in sufficient numbers, prices were lowered and scores of visitors – sometimes as many as 30,000 a day – flocked to the area by steamboat.

Rosherville Gardens at Northfleet were a major tourist attraction for Londoners using paddlesteamers for exotic day trips
Rosherville Gardens at Northfleet were a major tourist attraction for Londoners using paddlesteamers for exotic day trips

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

In 1878, the sinking of the Princess Alice paddle steamer, on its way to Rosherville, saw 640 people lose their lives.

This started the decline of the gardens, which were also affected by affordable trips to the seaside by railway.

In 1886 a railway station, Rosherville Halt, was built but in 1900 Rosherville Gardens went bankrupt. It reopened in 1903 but continued to lose money and closed in 1913.

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

The bear pit was excavated in November and December 2012 but covered over again to preserve it by the site’s new owners, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

Campaigner Conrad Broadley hopes the listing will help convince the HCA that the area should once again be enjoyed by the public.

He said: “Since English Heritage has now listed the bear pit, it is now officially recognised as an Historic Monument of National Importance.

“This vindicates the campaign to stop the Homes and Community Agency burying the bear pit and strengthens the case to see this rare structure restored so it can be viewed and enjoyed and become an educational resource for schools and adults alike.”

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