Fence  

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"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. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!" — Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754, tr. unidentified, probably based on[1], with added changes by JWG

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A fence is a freestanding structure designed to restrict or prevent movement across a boundary. Fences are generally distinguished from walls by the lightness of their construction and their purpose. Walls are usually barriers made from solid brick or concrete, blocking vision as well as passage, while fences are used more frequently to provide visual sectioning of spaces.

Alternatives to fencing include a ditch (sometimes filled with water, forming a moat).

Contents

History

Servitudes are legal arrangements of land use arising out of private agreements. Under the feudal system, most land in England was cultivated in common fields, where peasants were allocated strips of arable land that were used to support the needs of the local village or manor. By the sixteenth century the growth of population and prosperity provided incentives for landowners to use their land in more profitable ways, dispossessing the peasantry. Common fields were aggregated and enclosed by large and enterprising farmers—either through negotiation among one another or by lease from the landlord—to maximize the productivity of the available land and contain livestock. Fences redefined the means by which land is used, resulting in the modern law of servitudes.

In the United States, the earliest settlers claimed land by simply fencing it in. Later, as the American government formed, unsettled land became technically owned by the government and programs to register land ownership developed, usually making raw land available for low prices or for free, if the owner improved the property, including the construction of fences. However, the remaining vast tracts of unsettled land were often used as a commons, or, in the American West, "open range" As degradation of habitat developed due to overgrazing and a tragedy of the commons situation arose, common areas began to either be allocated to individual landowners via mechanisms such as the Homestead Act and Desert Land Act and fenced in, or, if kept in public hands, leased to individual users for limited purposes, with fences built to separate tracts of public and private land.

United Kingdom

Ownership of a fence on an ownership boundary varies. Generally title deeds will show which side owns the fence, using a "T" symbol (the leg of the "T" points towards the owner). Commonly the cladding is on non-owners side, enabling access to the posts for the owner when repairs are needed.

Where a fence or hedge has an adjacent ditch, the ditch is normally in the same ownership as the hedge or fence, with the ownership boundary being the edge of the ditch furthest from the fence or hedge. The principle of this rule is that an owner digging a boundary ditch will normally dig it up to the very edge of their land, and must then pile the spoil on their own side of the ditch to avoid trespassing on their neighbour. They may then erect a fence or hedge on the spoil, leaving the ditch on its far side. Exceptions often occur, for example where a plot of land derives from subdivision of a larger one along the centre line of a previously-existing ditch or other feature.

On private land in the United Kingdom, it is the landowner's responsibility to fence their livestock in. Conversely, for common land, it is the surrounding landowners' responsibility to fence the common's livestock out.

United States

Distinctly different land ownership and fencing patterns arose in the eastern and western United States. Original fence laws on the east coast were based on the British common law system, and rapidly increasing population quickly resulted in laws requiring livestock to be fenced in. In the west, land ownership patterns and policies reflected a strong influence of Spanish law and tradition, plus the vast land area involved made extensive fencing impractical until mandated by a growing population and conflicts between landowners. The "open range" tradition of requiring landowners to fence out unwanted livestock was dominant in most of the rural west until very late in the 20th century, and even today, a few isolated regions of the west still have open range statutes on the books. More recently, fences are generally constructed on the surveyed property line as precisely as possible. Today, across the nation, each state is free to develop its own laws regarding fences. In many cases for both rural and urban property owners, the laws were designed to require adjacent landowners to share the responsibility for maintaining a common boundary fenceline. Today, however, only 22 states have retained that provision.

Cultural value of fences

The value of fences and the metaphorical significance of a fence, both positive and negative, has been extensively utilized throughout western culture. A few examples include:

  • "Good fences make good neighbors." - Robert Frost
  • "A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn't climb over it." - Arthur Baer
  • "There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it's the risk, the gamble. In any event it's a thing I need." - William Faulkner
  • "Fear is the highest fence." - Dudley Nichols
  • "To be fenced in is to be withheld." - Kurt Tippett
  • "What have they done to the earth?/ What have they done to our fair sister?/ Ravaged and plundered/ and ripped her/ and bit her/ stuck her with knives/ in the side of the dawn/ and tied her with fences/ and dragged her down." - Jim Morrison, of The Doors
  • "Don't Fence Me In" - Cole Porter
  • "You shall build a turtle fence." - Peter Hoekstra
  • "A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view." - Marilyn Monroe

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fence" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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