Monday, January 27, 2020

Fence Week, continued: Facts and Trivia, Pt 1


Fences and Walls: 

A fence is a structure enclosing an area, or separating one area from another, typically outdoors, and is usually constructed from posts that are connected by boards, wire, rails or netting. 

A fence differs from a wall in that generally, walls are made of solid materials such as concrete while fences are made of light materials such as wire mesh among other materials. Fences, unlike walls, can be made of live plants. 

(Some of the items below relate to walls as well as fences).


Origin of the word “fence”: 

The word “fence” comes from “defence", originally “defense”. It entered English in the early 14th century from the Old French “defense,” which was derived from the Latin “defendere,” meaning “to protect; defend.” Although the word “fence” developed in the 14th century meaning “the action of defending,” by the 15th century “fence” was beginning to assume its modern meaning of “barrier” or “enclosure.” 

The use of “fence” to mean “use of a sword in combat,” as in “fencing”, developed in the 17th century. It was based on the blocking of one’s opponent’s strikes so that it too is based on “defense”. 

The use of “fence” as criminal slang to mean a person who buys stolen goods dates back to the 17th century. Again this relates to the original concept of “defense” in that a criminal fence, by buying “hot” goods from a thief, provides a defence by relieving the thief of the burden of holding the evidence (and quite possibly being caught with it) until a buyer can be found. Once stolen goods are “fenced,” it becomes much harder to prove theft. One writer has commented that in the context of this meaning, good fences make life easier for bad neighbors. 


Robert Frost popularised the saying “Good fences make good neighbors” with his 1914 poem "Mending Wall": 
He will not go behind his father's saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.' 

He did not, however, originate it. The Dictionary of Proverbs lists it as a mid 17th century proverb. Similar sentiments have been expressed in other countries and cultures. Even Benjmain Franklin had a view: "Love thy neighbor, yet don't pull down your hedge." 

“Mending Wall" is an ambiguous poem in meaning. Some believe the narrator of the poem dislikes the wall that divides him from his neighbor. Others think the poem tells the story of a well-established relationship and ritual between two friends and neighbours. 


Beginnings of fences: 

Fences originated from a need to prevent domesticated livestock from roaming and to keep them out of cultivated areas such as gardens and crop fields. or fields of crops, where they were unwanted. The earliest fences were made of available materials, usually stone or wood. Where stones were plentiful, fences were built up by the stones being removed from cultivated areas, which meant that stone walls and fences were built up over the years, even continuing to this day. In other areas, fences were constructed of timber. Log fences or split-rail fences were simple fences constructed in newly cleared areas by stacking log rails. Earth could also be used as a fence; an example was what is now called the sunken fence, or "ha-ha," a type of wall built by digging a ditch with one steep side (which animals cannot scale) and one sloped side (where the animals roam). 


Dry stone fences and walls:

Many areas of England and even Australia have stone fences, but they are especially prolific in Ireland. Many of those fences are the result of clearing land of stones for agriculture, the quality of the fences and walls (which are usually constructed dry) vary from simple stacking to sturdy placement by stonemasons. 

Dry stone wall, Australia, with rabbit hole in front 




Famine Walls:

There are stone walls and fences in Ireland that go straight up and down mountain sides, not serving any discernible function. These walls were built during the time of the Great Famine, which followed the potato blight of 1845-1849. The Irish were disproportionately reliant on potatoes, which led to widespread starvation, as well as disease. 

At that time wealthy British landowners living in Ireland extended loans that had to be earned through work.  That work was the building of stone walls from the base of mountains to the tops, walls that had no purpose. Because the people who had to do the work were starving and weak, it was much harder on them. The walls and fences so built, which still stand today, are known as Famine Walls.


Spite fences and walls: 

A spite fence is a term used to refer to an overly tall fence, structure in the nature of a fence, or a row of trees, bushes, or hedges, constructed or planted by someone to annoy a neighbor, the effect being to deprive the neighbour of a view. 

Several US states and local governments have regulations to prohibit spite fences, or related regulations such as those establishing a maximum allowed height for fences. In the United Kingdom, the terms spite wall or blinder wall (as in, to blind the view of a neighbour) are more commonly used. 

Charles Crocker, a railroad investor and owner of a house on Nob Hill in San Francisco, built a high fence to spoil his neighbour’s view after the neighbor wanted many times the market value of his property to sell to Crocker. The fence finally came down in 1905 after Crocker’s estate bought the neighbour’s property from the neighbour’s widow’s estate. In 1906 the Crcoker mansion and neighbouring buildings were gutted by fire as a result of the San Francisco earthquake, Rather than rebuild, Crocker’s family decided to donate the block to charity and it became the site of a cathedral. Funnily enough a site of hostility and hate became one of love and compassion. 

A spite wall in Lancashire, England, built in 1880 by the owner of the land on the left, in reaction to the unwanted construction of the house on the right. In those days there was no such thing as planning permission so the house on the left built this very solid wall two stories high right on the edge of their land boundary and very near to the wall and windows of the house on the right. It has become a famous structure which people now come to see. 

Same spite wall as above - bad fences (and walls) make bad neighbours.

Spite fence, Toronto, 1937 

Spite Wall, “Calderville”, Brooklyn US. 1919

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.