Everything you need to know about bungaroosh in Brighton

Brighton is a great place to visit… for shopping, for the seaside, for its nightlife and not least for its architectural splendour. The city became fashionable when the Prince Regent (later King George IV) made it his seaside retreat. He commissioned the magnificent Royal Pavilion and sparked a construction boom which has given us a wealth of imposing Georgian and early Victorian buildings, comparable with those in Bath and Harrogate.

What tourists – and quite possibly most locals don’t know – is that behind many of the grand stucco facades in Kemptown, Regency Square and Royal Crescent lie walls constructed of bungaroosh.

The rise of bungaroosh – “the worst material in the world”

Bungaroosh was used extensively in Brighton and surrounding coastal towns from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries and is found almost nowhere else. It is a mish mash of miscellaneous materials – broken bricks, cobble stones, flint stones from the South Downs, pebbles, gravel and sand from the beach, and even organic materials like pieces of wood – all mixed up in a solution of hydraulic lime and poured into a “shutter” framework. Some experts have called it the “worst building material in the world”

In today’s terms, bungaroosh is very low carbon – it recycles other building materials, uses locally found resources, and the lime in it absorbs carbon dioxide as it sets. Unlikely though that builders at the end of the 18th century had the future of the planet in mind. According to some sources, it was high tax on new bricks that brought bungaroosh to Brighton.

Unlikely too that today’s construction companies will turn to bungaroosh in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Whilst the architectural mix in present day Brighton bears testament to the durability of bungaroosh buildings, it is undeniable that they do need a high level of maintenance.

Is bungaroosh really the “worst building material in the world”? No. That’s too harsh. Bungaroosh, when the mixture is properly lime rich, has some very good, useful characteristics. But it does have its drawbacks.

The good and the bad of bungaroosh

In its favour, its composition of sundry different sized bits and pieces held together with a lime mortar results in air pockets, which enhance the already good thermal and acoustic insulation properties. It scores very highly for sustainability, and the continued survival of Brighton’s Regency buildings testifies to bungaroosh’s longevity. On a well-maintained building, repairs to walls may be frequent, but they are normally localized and therefore small scale compared with many of the problems which beset more modern buildings.

On the downside, all bungaroosh, whether good quality or otherwise, is prone to water damage. Hence the protective layer of lime-based render on so many of central Brighton’s buildings. But renders do not last forever. Eventually they will crack and let the rain water in. The lime in bungaroosh is porous and relatively soft, and, when it soaks up water, it begins to disintegrate and walls are then in danger of collapse. So immediate repair is essential, and those repairs should be done by someone who is used to working with bungaroosh.

Modern construction materials, in particular cement-based products, are incompatible because they do not allow the bungaroosh to breathe or expand. And if the bungaroosh itself needs replacing, it should always be replaced with a bungaroosh mixture as close as possible to the original. Unfortunately there is not a lot of choice in bungaroosh mixtures at the average builders merchant, so it’s a case of making your own.

If you are resident in Brighton or nearby, should you consider living in a bungaroosh building? Or maybe you already live in a building with bungaroosh walls? The important thing is to know what the maintenance needs are going to be. And to be aware that the average builder may say he can fix your problem, but in reality doesn’t have a clue.

Got a question about bungaroosh?

For more information about bungaroosh, or to book a survey at a property with bungaroosh, contact Tate Surveying Services today. We’d be glad to help. Alternatively, you can read more about bungaroosh, right here.