Campaigners fight to save Northfleet bear pit in former Victorian pleasure garden (From News Shopper)
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Campaigners fight to save Northfleet bear pit in former Victorian pleasure garden
CAMPAIGNERS in Northfleet are trying to save the remains of a bear pit unearthed at the site of a former Victorian pleasure garden.
Rosherville Gardens was once the Disneyland of its time with visitors topping one million a year during its 1880s heyday.
A recent architectural survey found the remains of the pit along with parts of the elevated Italian walking area which made the gardens so popular with Victorian pleasure seekers.
Filled in with chalk in 1939 after years of decline, planning permission has now been granted to dump millions of tonnes of earth left over from the London Crossrail project to raise the site ready for development.
But campaigners are hoping that, once the site is sold by owners the Homes and Communities Agency, any development will preserve one of only five bear pits in the country.
Conservationist Conrad Broadley said: "The bear pit is one of those things that captures the essence of what Rosherville Gardens were.
"To lose the gardens on our watch would be an absolute catastrophe.
"It’s a fantastic piece of our heritage and it’s got such a romantic history."
Rosie the bear was the most famous occupant of the 6m wide, 3m deep pit and crowds would often throw food to her for amusement.
Spokesman for Urban Gravesham civic society Jonathan Clay said: "Nowadays it would probably seem a bit cruel that people would do that for entertainment but we think it could be a great feature of any development.
"The gardens were some of the most important in Europe at the time and they were internationally famous."
Gravesham Council leader Councillor John Burden said: "The bear pit is a bit of our history we should remember rather than one we want to bring back.
"It is the history of the time but the most important thing is to preserve the site.
"When we expose it again we need a clear plan for how it’s going to be protected and preserved."
The Homes and Communities Agency was unavailable for comment.