Working my way through my stack of TLSs, I’ve reached Dec. 11, 2015, and the letters section included this, which naturally caught my attention:

Sir, — Rachel Bowlby, reviewing Bernard Harrison’s What Is Fiction For? (December 4), says it “feels like a bit of critical bungaloo (that’s 1980s Brighton lingo for the assortment of filler materials used by cowboy builders)”.

The word more correctly is bungaroosh, and it predates the 1980s cowboy builders, being a kind of rubble concrete, made out of lime, gravel, sand, flint and brick fragments, that was used in many of Brighton and Hove’s Regency terraces, with subsequent problems for their modern owners.

“Bungaroosh became synonymous with shoddy workmanship”, says Nigel Richardson in Breakfast in Brighton (1998), calling it “a very Brightonian concept. The word sounded dashing but bogus. By reputation it looked the part but fell to bits.”

Strangely, I don’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary.

35 The Albemarle, Marine Parade,

You can read more about it at the Wikipedia article (which says “The etymology of the word is unknown, but the first part may derive from the colloquial verb ‘to bung’, meaning to put something somewhere hastily or carelessly”) and in this London Damp Company post (“Bungaroosh is almost exclusively found in Brighton, which is something you should be glad of if you live in London or other parts of Britain”).


  1. Any possibility of this being related the Irish word for bedrock, “buncharraig”?

  2. Or perhaps, “bonn cloiche”? Stone base?

    Foundation stone appears to be the other way around: cloch bhoinn.

  3. I’m pleased also to learn about another Brighton construction material specialty — mathematical tiles.


    But how are they particularly mathematical? They tesselate, sure, but how more mathematical than any other rectangular tiles? A different sense of “mathematical”? The Internet does not seem to know.

  4. Lars (the original one) says

    Maybe it was a mathematician who came up with the idea.

  5. From that Wikipedia article: “A distinctive black variety with a glazed surface was used on many buildings in Brighton (now part of the city of Brighton and Hove) …” Is some idiot going through Wikipedia adding “(now part of the city of Brighton and Hove)” to every mention of Brighton? Get a life, sir!

  6. In the OED3 s.v. mathematical, there is no mention of tiles, but sense 5b is ‘exactly regular (now rare)’, which seems to fit. Here are the citations:

    1776 C. Burney Gen. Hist. Music I. 449 The voice varied a little up and down, and did not strictly keep to one mathematical line of tone.

    1818 W. Hazlitt Lect. Eng. Poets i. 5 Plato banished the poets from his Commonwealth, lest their descriptions of the natural man should spoil his mathematical man.

    1881 J. Hawthorne Fortune’s Fool i. xiv Within are straight paths and mathematical grass-plots.

    1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood 11 The bare hill-tops..skirted with methodically-planned woods of selected conifers, and girdled with mathematical stone dykes.

    1951 J. Jones From Here to Eternity xxviii. 426 Then the trucks were out on the open highway, riding..past the mathematical fields of pineapple.

  7. First paragraph here: “the origin of the name is unknown”

  8. Aren’t most manufactured tiles “exactly regular” (at least as exactly as mathematical tiles are)?

  9. The wikipedia article and the site I linked to explain that mathematical tiles are not simply flat rectangles that are butted up against each other on an exterior wall. They are made to overlap each other, somewhat like roof shingles, and have holes for nailing that are covered by the next row. So maybe it’s the notion that they have a more complex shape and snap neatly together in this three-dimensional way that makes them “mathematical.”

  10. David L: I’m sure that’s right. They do have a relatively complex geometry, particularly when negotiating corners and openings, and often look neater than the conventional brickwork they’re imitating, bricks or traditional tiles not requiring the same degree of precision.
    ‘Mathematical’ perhaps also in the sense of ingenious, even deceptive, like the Mathematical Bridge at Cambridge, put up about the time they began to appear. http://www-g.eng.cam.ac.uk/cam-bridges/math.html
    There’s a picture of a stack of them waiting to be used at

  11. I thought “mathematical tiles” would be like Penrose tiles, which can be used to tile the plane in an infinite number of ways, none of them periodic.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Is some idiot going through Wikipedia adding “(now part of the city of Brighton and Hove)” to every mention of Brighton?

    Every sufficiently sophisticated bot is indistinguishable from an idiot.

    Edit: every sufficiently sophisticated bot is indistinguishable from the idiot who programmed it!

  13. Brett: Indeed, and that particular confound is why it’s hard to find out about mathematical tiles of the physical kind.

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