13th December 2012:
A team from OA South returned to Northfleet to re-expose the Bear Pit discovered in October. The Bear Pit was a well known landmark of Rosherville Gardens, a Victorian pleasure garden which opened in 1837, and was part of a menagerie within the park, bear baiting having been outlawed in 1835.
The field team returned to clarify the extent of the remains and determine whether any other features associated with Rosherville Gardens had survived the redevelopment of the site in the 1930s and the recent demolition and clearance of the 1930s industrial works. They discovered that the Bear Pit was better preserved than the October evaluation had suggested. Once the trench had been re-opened and extended, it became apparent that the western half of the 6m diameter circular pit was virtually intact, missing only capping bricks and iron railings along the top. The brick walls survived to a height of 3m on the western side. This was over 1m higher than the eastern side we had exposed in October. The pit's slate floor was still intact and a square metal plinth, with a central hole to hold a wooden post for the bear to climb, was uncovered in the centre.
Further excavation within the subterranean rooms demonstrated that in addition to the animal cages, there was a network of access corridors running along the eastern side of the pit. The corridors provided access to the pit for the keeper and had slit windows into both the pit and the cages. The vaulted roofs of the cages and the flat roof of the corridor had been demolished in the 1930s, presumably to ensure that all voids had been filled-in prior to building over the site.
On the better preserved western side, evidence of the preserved turf line was uncovered along with the construction layers for a raised Broad Walk. Amazingly small patches of the shell pathway that ran around the pit and long the Broad Walk still survived.
In addition to the Bear Pit, the team discovered the severely truncated remains of construction deposits associated with the Banqueting Hall, garden soils and the fragmentary remains of the base of a fountain. The fountain sat in the centre of a landscaped mound with a flint retaining wall which formed part of the Broad Walk. The mound was intact, along with its topsoil horizon. When the site was levelled in the 1930s it appeared that the ground level had been raised to the height of the raised Broad Walk and this had therefore protected the mound.
The discoveries have attracted quite a lot of local and brought a news team from ITV’s Meridian Tonight programme. Although the pit is now backfilled with the intention to preserve it in situ, local action groups are campaigning to incorporate the pit into any development that may take place on the site.