When it comes to a home, a fence is generally a fragment of the whole. Something that helps makes up the overall picture of the house and land, and something that is expected to be there. That is because most homes, or blocks of land, have some sort of fencing constructed around them. This helps to mark the boundaries of the land, among other things.
When making decisions about fencing, the decision isn’t very often ‘do we or don’t we get a fence’, but more likely ‘do we keep the old one, or do we buy nice, new colorbond fencing.’ Again, this is because it is a given that you will have some sort of fencing protecting your property.
But has it always been this way? Almost. Fences are almost as old as the human race, from the time we had possessions, land and farms, we have had fences.
The term ‘fence’ comes from a Middle English word ‘fens’, which is short for ‘defens’. This, of course, means defense, which is another use for fences and a large part of how they came about. After all, one of the main purposes of a fence is to keep people and/or animals in or out of a particular space.
Back in the days of early settlers in America, laying claim to land was as simple as erecting a fence around the patch of land that you wanted. This way of working didn’t last for long and soon the land had to be purchased legally, as it was in the United Kingdom.
As far as human history goes, and the importance of the role of the fence in this history, it was the fence that actually helped humans forge the way to the civility we have today. It is not known who was the first person to fence in a piece of property, but philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who is known for his writings about social contracts, wrote: “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.” He said this, because the fence helped establish the collective recognition of private property, which is one of the most important foundations of the social contract.
Before this, early European farmers did not have fences for their land. Instead, they would farm wherever they pleased, harvest and then move on to more land. Because of the continual moving on, the land was never properly cared for, and therefore the land was being destroyed. Once fences came into the picture, there was a sense of ownership and these farmers settled to look after the land for years.
So next time you are thinking of putting in new garden fencing, whether for aesthetic reasons, privacy reasons or to mark the boundaries between you and the neighbour, remember that the construction you are erecting is a part of human history that helped us to become the civilization we are today.