A NORTHFLEET conservationist says he feels "vindicated" after a rare bear pit was saved from possible demolition.

Conrad Broadley has been fighting to protect what remains of Rosie the bear’s former home at the site in Crete Hall Road, Northfleet.

The black bear was the most famous occupant of the 6m wide, 3m deep pit built in around 1837 and crowds at what used to be the Rosherville Pleasure Gardens would often throw food to her for amusement.

The gardens were the Disneyland of the time with visitors topping one million a year during the attraction’s 1880s heyday.

But there is little left to recall the site’s Victorian-era glory of elevated Italian walking areas and fountains apart from the only surviving brick bear pit in the country.

Now English Heritage has decided to Grade II list the structure meaning any future development will have to preserve or incorporate it. 

Mr Broadley told News Shopper: "The decision is a great relief.

"I use the word vindicated because when the bear pit was first found and I was extolling its virtues I was greeted with a bit of incredulity by the council and the developers.

News Shopper:

Rosherville Gardens in their prime.

"But now it has been assessed and determined as a site of national importance.

"It’s a fantastic piece of our heritage and it’s got such a romantic history.

"It really is something that captures people’s imagination so it needs to be on show."

English Heritage noted how rare any structures which housed exotic animals or birds are in the UK, meaning site owners the Homes and Communities Agency will have to bear the pit in mind when making any applications to develop the site. 

Urban Gravesham civic society spokesman 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."

Rosherville Gardens were laid out in 1837 but were filled in with chalk in 1939 after years of decline.