Bungaroosh Bungarouche Bunglarouge
by Rob Fraser, reproduced in The Round Hill Reporter June 2007
DON'T STAND IN THE WINDOW, DARLING! and other horror stories — or why you shouldn't stand in a bay window in Brighton"
However you spell this concoction, it is the mixture which makes up many of the structural walls of Brighton and is responsible for much structural instability, dry rot, dampness, and probably plague and pestilence as well. It is the sort of cobbled-together material that emerged from those desperate days of cowboy (shepherd?) builders, hurried and financially rocky developments, and a lack of adequate building regulations, that characterise the Georgian and Victorian eras.
The material is basically a freely interpreted flint rubble. A lime mortar was made up and poured into shuttering, and anything else that came to hand was bunged* in too. (*The probable derivation of Bungaroosh, I believe.) This could include old bricks, bits of flint, odd lumps of wood, lumps of chalk, in fact anything solid. The spacing of the shuttering even seems to have regularised after the coming of the railways, since sleepers were conveniently available!
Into the mixture in the shutters were added whatever fixings were required for supporting other structures, so baulks of timber or brick courses could be set into the bungaroosh to support floors or plaster battening. It is not easy to tie into bungaroosh, so if a series of houses in a terrace was not built contiguously, it is not unusual to find vertical joints between the front wall and party walls. This can be a boon if the front wall falls off, since it leaves the rest of the house standing. Any combination of brick, timber and bungaroosh (or flintwork etc) seems to have been considered acceptable. I have seen a bungaroosh wall with a timber lintel surmounted by two or three courses of brickwork and this topped by a bungaroosh parapet. Not surprisingly this lot tried to fall down after 150 years when the timber lintel rotted.
Most of the time, however, bungaroosh stays in place — probably through force of habit. All the bits of timber in the mixture tend to create a rather pleasant breeding ground for rot and exotic fungi. Since the mixture is very porous, the rot circulates quickly, and can usually find some damp somewhere to feed on. In fact bungaroosh has to be a little damp. Too dry and the now leached mortar crumbles, too wet and it becomes mobile. My predecessor considered that on this basis you could probably demolish a third of Brighton with a well-aimed hose.
There is no way of repairing the stuff, should you wish to. The only solution to a blown area of bungaroosh is to fill the gap in brick, blockwork, or reinforced cement. No structural engineer would justify a rubble repair, and most throw a wobbly trying to justify the existence of bungaroosh walls.
One of the main advantages of this type of lime mortar based material, of course, is that it moves, and it is usually when its movement is sufficient to create a gap against a more solid object, such as adjoining brick construction, that the material appears to fail. In very recent years with very dry summers and stormy wet winters, a number of bays have collapsed, due probably to this differential movement, and the lack of any solid fixing between the timber or brick bays and the adjoining bungaroosh wall. By the way, don't stand in a Brighton bay window (as opposed to a bow front which is usually OK) since the weight of the bay is often taken through the window frames on the outside. The only thing tying the bay back may be a couple of 6" nails.
Next time you admire the Regency terraces, therefore, think of the innocents who have bought one of these buildings with that funny sounding material the surveyor said was in the front wall — can you spell it?
Rob Fraser, Conservation Officer with Brighton Borough Council