Bear pit with dens of circa 1837.
Reason for Listing
Rosherville Gardens Bear Pit of circa 1837 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity of building type: a very rare surviving example of a bear pit. These, like most structures which housed exotic animals of whatever type within pleasure gardens, are generally rare survivals nationally;
* Degree of survival: the open bear pit and floor survives relatively intact, and its plan, with four attached chambers or dens, remains legible, although it is acknowledged that much of the roofs of the four dens is missing;
* Comparators: 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;
* Group value: it is part of a group of structures associated with the Rosherville Gardens: the Cliff Top Entrance, the quay walls, steps and drawdock (all Grade II), and other unlisted structures from the gardens such as the Hermit's Cave.
This is one of the remaining structures of Rosherville Gardens, pleasure gardens laid out from 1837 which survived until 1914. The gardens were built on an excavated chalk pit, owned by Jeremiah Rosher (1765-1848), who saw the potential of chalk excavation by the Thames at Northfleet in the manufacture of cement. 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 River Thames. The architect H E Kendall was employed to lay out an esplanade and built a hotel, and by 1837 the quay walls had been built with a wooden pier. Although the Rosherville Hotel and a few Italianate style houses were built, the new town did not develop further.
In 1837 Rosher leased the large excavated chalk pit for 99 years to George Jones, a businessman from Islington, who formed the Kent Zoological and Botanical Gardens Company. Gardens were laid out including a terrace, a bear pit, an archery ground, a lake, a maze, flower beds, statues, a lookout tower on a spur of rock, and a winding path. The gardens were originally intended to appeal to wealthy, cultured visitors, but as these never came in sufficient numbers, Mr Jones was forced to lower the prices and import more varied entertainment. From 1842 the gardens were renamed Rosherville Gardens and became an enormous success. Visitors arrived by steamboat, landing at the nearby Rosherville Pier, entering the gardens through the original entrance a short walk from the pier on the north-east side of the gardens (the quay walls, steps and drawdock are listed Grade II). In 1869 a new entrance was made from the London Road to the south of the gardens, and steps inside a cliff tunnel (also Grade II listed) led down to the gardens below. The firm of James Pulham and Son is recorded as having completed work at Rosherville Gardens in 1869.
The bear pit is shown and labelled as such on the 25 inch 1876 Ordnance Survey map. On an 1877 map of Rosherville Gardens, in the British Museum, a peacock house, monkey house and fowl house are also shown. An undated photograph, probably late C19, shows Rosie the Bear in the circular brick bear pit with iron railings on top. A round-headed doorcase in the pit is shown behind her.
In 1872 George Jones died and the gardens passed into the hands of the Rosherville Gardens Company Ltd. In 1878 the sinking of the Princess Alice paddle steamer (a River Thames paddle steamer on its way to Rosherville) with the loss of more than 640 people started the decline of the gardens, which were also affected by affordable trips to the seaside by railway. However, in 1886 a railway station, Rosherville Halt, was constructed nearby, specifically to bring visitors to Rosherville Gardens, who entered through the 1869 south entrance.
In 1900 Rosherville Gardens went bankrupt and re-opened following changes in 1903. Despite these changes Rosherville Gardens continued to lose money and closed as a pleasure gardens in 1913. In 1914 they were the location of a film made by the Magnet Film Company, which planned to make more films there, but the gardens were closed completely by the First World War. In 1924 five acres of land were sold to T Henley's Cable Works, which had occupied the land between the gardens and the Thames since 1906. In 1939 Henley's bought the rest of the land and the site of the gardens was cleared. More recently all C20 building on the site of the Rosherville Gardens have been completely removed. The bear pit was excavated between 21st November and 10th December 2012 but almost instantly covered over again.
DATE: circa 1837 bear pit with dens.
MATERIALS: brick with slate floor.
PLAN: circular structure about 6.5 meters in diameter and 2 meters deep with four rectangular rooms of varying sizes leading off to the north-east. The bear pit is currently (2013) infilled with earth and not visible above ground.
EXTERIOR: the bear pit is a circular brick structure originally open to the elements retaining its original round-headed entrance to the south-west for the bears to enter the pit. The base of the pit retains its original slate floor. The outside and inside of the pit still bear the original white paint. A semi-circular brick and chalk passage connects from the south-west entrance to the series of brick individual rooms to the north-east which were originally located underneath the main walkway in Rosherville Gardens. On the outside wall of the bear pit towards the north-east side is a pulley wheel attached by a bracket to the wall which may have been part of the door opening mechanism or used for chaining the bear. Rooms 1 and 2 retain some of the springing of the semi-circular roof vaults but the remaining parts of the roofs were removed to prevent voids when the area was levelled in 1939.
MAPPING: the mapped area is intended solely to identify the location of the bear pit, but not the plan and extent of the buried structure which also includes four attached chambers or dens.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.