Modern Civilization and the History of the Fence
While it may seem strange to consider the fence as one of the defining concepts of modern civilization, its history has huge ramifications for the way we perceive our world today. Although it is impossible to determine the exact origins of fencing in the ancient world, the impact the fence on humanity has had far reaching consequences.
Today the fence is the symbol of sanctity and security. They serve many functions such as providing a clearly defined boundary for the family property and even to protect the ParcelForce delivery person from the neighbor’s dogs. Throughout history, however, there are some fascinating facts surrounding fences and how they have shaped the world today.
The foundations of the modern world
You might ask who first came up with the idea of fencing to define the boundaries of property owned by an individual. Perhaps the Great Wall of China was the first fence in history? What about the Walls of Jericho? No matter where the origins of the fence lie they signify the transition from a nomadic, hunter gather culture to a civilization which is based on land ownership and agriculture, the foundation of the modern world.
While the nomadic cultures that are still in existence today are respectful of the harmony between man and nature, historically this was not always the case. For example, Tacitus describes how the ancient German tribes would practice something called “shifting cultivation”. This farming method involved creating a plantation then moving on as soon as the crop was harvested. This was a common farming practice which decimated the natural resources of the area, resulting in the destruction of indigenous forests causing severe soil erosion and devastation to the land.
In defense of the fence
The shift towards defining a particular area of land by fencing it in and owning it led to a culture where that land was protected and cared for, rather than being looted for personal gain before moving on. Fence installation became a symbol for protecting the land in order to benefit the populations that lived on it, as well as an important form of defense – the root of the word “fence” as we understand it today.
Creating a boundary around an area of land and claiming it as a possession is one of the most defining concepts of humanity. As Jean Jacques Rousseau famously said “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.” Protecting and defending our land from intruders and the idea of ownership is all inextricably linked with the development of the fence.
Fences throughout history
Throughout history, fences have come in all manner of styles and functions. Many stone walls erected in Cornwall during the Bronze Age remain to this day, still marking out the territories that they denoted many centuries ago. The Anglo Saxons planted hedges to define the boundaries to their properties, creating an intricate eco-system of wildlife which played an important role in providing pollinators for their crops, creating a microclimate to help their seedlings grow and protecting the land by preventing soil erosion.
The Virginia Worm fences which were created by the first American settlers were greatly admired by European travelers as they showed ingenious use of the natural resources while being incredibly cost and labor- effective. For many, the image of the white picket fence is the epitome of the American dream of home ownership with strong connotations to the heritage of the country.
Controversy vs. conservation
Fences and the idea of land ownership have caused many controversies throughout history such as the impact of barbed wire on the West. This had wide reaching ramifications not just for the cowboys, but also for the migrating Indians, the railroad engineers and many other, later settlers. Some might even say that a fence describes the difference between the haves and the have-nots and that the idea of land ownership is one of the biggest problems of modern civilization, as it starkly contrasts the differences between rich and poor.
It might be controversial, but for many the reality is that the idea of property, of protecting what is yours by installing a fence, has allowed many generations of ordinary people to create great things. As English agriculturalist Arthur Young once said, “Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock and he will turn it into a garden. Give him a nine years’ lease of a garden and he will convert it into a desert.” It is this culture of property which has been instrumental in the development of the human capacity to plan for the future and the biggest incentive for us to protect our environment.
What Your Fence Says About You.
Fence or Defence?
Fences are tricky customers. They come in all manner of shapes and size, color, material and design. They can be bold, imposing, subtle and delicate, novelty or purely practical. They are the first thing a visitor sees when they approach your property and the style and fashion of your fence can really enhance both your home and your garden.
Fences inevitably serve an important purpose and that is to mark out your territory. In fact some of the earliest US settlers claimed their land simply by setting a fence around it. Later, as the American government became more officially formed, unsettled land became owned by the government and programs to register land ownership were developed. This meant that much raw land became available at low prices for the common man or even on occasion for free, if the owner improved the property, including the construction of fences. The incentive was therefore there to build a fence and claim your land, and this is perhaps where the birth of fences can be attributed.
Today where your land ends and the land of your neighbour begins can be a contentious topic and debates about access are age old in neighbourhoods across the land. Arguments about responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of boundary lines and the type of fence which is required are managed by special laws designed to deal with these feuds. Once ownership is defined and agreed, fences are established and erected according to their owner’s taste.
Of course there are many types of fence, low level, higher level, ornate and intricate or dark and overpowering however you decide to fence your boundary line is to do with taste and purpose.
Fences for many people are not only about the outlining of boundary lines, they also provide security. Particularly in urban areas where trespass is a common crime and theft and burglary result a fence with a locked gate can provide some comfort, as it is harder to gain access accordingly.
For people with young families it is reassuring to know children can play out safely without wandering straight onto a nearby road.
The nuisance of other people’s pets and common rodents can also be reduced by an appropriate solid fence being in place, leaving your garden a haven for you to do as you wish.
Fences can be used to define public places too, children’s parks for example where dogs and skateboards are not allowed are usually fenced off defining purpose and usage of the public area.
In agricultural terms fences are indispensable. Keeping livestock together or separated is vital to the livestock management plans and fences provide the security of not allowing any livestock to escape, breed or be subject to theft.
Your fence and your home
Many fences though are all about what they say about you and your home. Beautiful ornate ironwork at waist level is not in reality going to keep out unwanted cats or thieves, but it has an understated subtleness that says ‘this is a tasteful property’. A fenced perimeter and gated drive says money. Fetching wooden picket fences stained a rustic brown or a glossy white are beautiful features for small cottage properties.
Looking after your fence
A fence is not just a fence, it is a commitment under which you undertake to love, nurture and look after your fence until moving out does you part! Annual maintenance of your fence, particularly wooden fencing is not negotiable. Treating the fence with a wood appropriate spray in an appropriate color to withstand the heats of summer and wet climates of fall and winter (according to your climate) are important considerations. A spray treatment should ideally be applied in the fall months to prepare for the winter ahead and protect from falling precipitation. Not only will it make the fence look more pleasing to the eye, it will also ensure a longer life span of the fence giving a better return on your investment.
Whatever you decide to do for your home in regards to fencing, it is likely to cost you, and using the savings from your cash isas can be a shock to the system, so it is best to price up the options available and choose one to fit your budget and purpose. Speaking to a reputable specialist fencing company and talking honestly about your budget and requirements will ensure you get the fence and price which fits. Natural and beautiful a fence is a practical necessity and a labor of love.
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