Fences are there for a reason. Sometimes there’s a need for a high-security perimeter to keep intruders out of sports or industrial facilities, and, occasionally, people or animals need to be kept safely inside a boundary line. We take fences for granted. But how have they evolved?
The earliest fences
The word ‘fence’ comes from ‘fens’, a shortening of ‘defence’. That makes sense because all fences act as barriers to protect spaces. Fences were originally constructed by the Greeks, Romans and other early civilisations to protect agricultural land and family property. By creating a simple fence, a warring nation also staked a claim, declaring an intention to protect its land.
How fencing changed with the times
Stone fences were used by Bronze Age man using natural, durable materials that lay close at hand. Anglo-Saxons built ‘worm fences’ – rough wooden rails laid at zigzag angles that did not need posts in the ground and were quick and cheap to construct. Metal began to be more commonly used in the 19th Century. Steel barbed wire or ‘bobbed wire’ fencing appeared commercially in the late 1800s whilst at the same time wrought iron became popular for railings. Wire mesh came into prominence for use through various military projects during WWII. After the war, it began to be developed for other applications, including welded and woven wire mesh fencing.
How we relate to fences today
Fences channel our movements and frame the ground we live on. They allow us to control our environment in terms of what and who gets access to it. The type of fences we erect come with different symbolic and social meanings. Put up a brick wall, and you have a dense, dark barrier more likely to be the source of anger and disagreement. Welded mesh and woven fencing work in a different ways. They present a highly effective physical barrier, but one you can see through. A fence that says yes, you can look but don’t trespass – that place is mine. In that way, wire mesh carries a subtler message. Its transparency can even help diffuse anger when deployed where there is a risk of dispute or conflict.
A woven mesh fence divides spaces without creating a harsh physical barrier. Instead, it shapes and protects whilst allowing us to see beyond it. Furthermore, mesh design and materials can be adapted to meet the user’s needs, making the fence practical and sculptural and giving the illusion that our access is not being controlled, even when it is!