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Campaigners hope Victorian, Game of Thrones style, bear pit could be unearthed as part of Ebbsfleet Garden City development

PUBLISHED: 17:11 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:56 02 August 2017

How Rosherville Gardens used to look (bear pit in background)

How Rosherville Gardens used to look (bear pit in background)

Archant

A petition to restore the bear pit has gained more than 100 signatures online

Part of the unearthed bear pit, during the Rosherville Gardens excavation in 2012 Part of the unearthed bear pit, during the Rosherville Gardens excavation in 2012

It might seem like something from Game of Thrones, but hidden beneath the Northfleet soil, far from the big-budget world television fantasy, is a bear pit which once brought Victorian crowds to the town.

Opened in 1837, Rosherville Gardens was a key tourist attraction in the 19th century, not only boasting the bear pit and adjoining caves, but also a lake, picturesque gardens and a cliffside entrance.

The Grade II listed site was dug up for excavation in 2012, before the gardens and pit were returned to the earth, following the gardens’ decline at the start of the 19th century.

But as work goes on to provide 15,000 homes at Ebbsfleet Garden City, campaigners have set up a petition urging developers to consider permanently unearthing the piece of Northfleet history, and make it a key feature of any future housing development.

A century on from its final days, when it was used a location for early film production, developers Keepmoat Homes are putting together plans to build 700 homes as well a school and shopping centre on the Northfleet Embankment East development site.

Mike Dempsey, regional managing director at Keepmoat Homes said the developer is “commemorating the location of the bear pit,” by “marking its location as a point of historical interest,” after it carried out a heritage assessment at the site.

Keepmoat is expected to put in a planning application to Ebbsfleet Development Corporation later this month following a recent consultation, but campaigners have also gone to neighbouring Gravesham Borough Council for its thoughts.

Architect Neege Allen Navarria from Gravesend Futures, one of the campaign groups backing the petition, said: “The bear pit still exists almost intact under a few meters of soil. It can be unearthed, restored and be made accessible as a real heritage asset and a living memory to future generations of the Victorian Rosherville Gardens, I’d say work would take around £250,000.

“Just putting a plaque in isn’t enough, there are some very special places around Gravesham and we need to celebrate that more, this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Gravesham council leader, David Turner, responded: “Even though interpretation through a piece of modern artwork appears to be the favoured approach, due to likely fragility and the significant initial and ongoing cost of exposing the bear pit, we encouraged Ebbsfleet Development Corporation not to rule out full exposure and should further investigate the feasibility of achieving that.”

An EDC spokesman said: “We are working towards taking the application by Keepmoat to our planning committee soon and our assessment will take into account all of the representations made during the public consultation.”

View the petition here.

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