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"Enclosing Farmers' Fields" Topic

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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Jan 2022 4:27 p.m. PST

In North America farmers routinely enclosed their fields with stone walls or wooden fences. In many areas there were laws requiring them to do so. During the Revolutionary War and the Civil War those walls and fences often had tactical effects on combat.

Did European farmers enclose their fields? Aside from the famous Norman hedgerows, I can't recall reading anything about this.

Mike the Analyst06 Jan 2022 5:11 p.m. PST

Period maps seem to show some boundary and dividing walls on the edge of villages. England was extensively parcelled up due to the enclosure acts but this does not appear to have happened in western Europe.
Have a look at detailed level maps from Mapire and for France Remonter le temps

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2022 5:45 p.m. PST

At least in Central Europe the walls were around villages – people would live in the villages, go out to the farms during the day and return to the safety of the walled village at night – but I don't know that the fields were frequently enclosed

In Ireland at least in Galway there were a number of walled fields but I don't know that this was common elsewhere

Erzherzog Johann06 Jan 2022 10:52 p.m. PST

link is one of an excellent series on early 19th century Austria.


CHRIS DODSON06 Jan 2022 11:01 p.m. PST

Interesting an informative stuff .

Best wishes,


Grelber07 Jan 2022 12:06 a.m. PST

It seems to me that I once read that after the defeats at Jena and Auerstadt in October 1806, the retreating Prussians would not tear down farm fencing to burn to keep them warm at night, so there must have been some wooden fences.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2022 4:44 a.m. PST

Be sure of your area. Much of Europe was not farmers' fields as we understand them today, but common land--frequently worked by serfs, though you did have areas where free villagers worked commons. So for instance ECW England has large open areas which were enclosed by walls, fences and hedges by 1745 and more so by the Napoleonic Wars, the land having been "enclosed."
Similar things are happening in Western Europe. Officers in the 1790's are complaining that the large open fields of Flanders in Marlborough's day were similarly cut up into individual farms providing cover for skirmishers by the French Revolution.
So find out how the land was held at the time of your battle in the area of the battle. But I'd suspect more stone walls and hedges than wooden fences. Europe was running out or by the 18th Century.

Mike the Analyst07 Jan 2022 4:56 a.m. PST

Here is the Cadastral map for Rohrendorf, the village in the image in the article posted by John. The fenced large field and some other field strips are the same, others appear to have changed. On the map the large field appears to have markings that may indicate the fencing.


johannes5507 Jan 2022 6:29 a.m. PST

For (parts of) todays Belgium the Villaret map (middle 18th century) and the Ferraris maps (around 1770) are available on the internet. Bounderies of fields are shown as treeline or some of that kind

Bill N07 Jan 2022 7:13 a.m. PST

It was my understanding that in the American South, well into the 19th century, fields were enclosed for the most part to keep animals out. Farmer's ability to recover for damages to crops caused by wandering livestock was dependent on whether the crops were in a properly fenced field. One of the arguments in favor of changing this rule, to use fencing as a way to keep animals in rather than to keep them out, was that it would require much less fencing. For those who have way too much time on their hands, this article is a good start: PDF link

laretenue07 Jan 2022 8:46 a.m. PST

Om the whole, enclosures are rare in western and central Continental Europe (unlike of the hedgerows of the UK or parts of Western Normandy or Brittany), unless lifestock needs to be penned in.

For cultivated land in places such as France, Germany, the Low Countries and I imagine across the Austrian Empire, expect to find cultivation in strips, often marked off by ditches or lines of stones (but generally not walls).

These might therefore create some impediments to movement, but rarely block line of sight. Treelines do of course exist, particularly in flat terrain like the Netherlands where they act as wind-breaks.

In regions of thin soil, such as the mountains of central and southern France and the Italian Apennines, stones constantly need to be cleared from pastureland and provide a ready resource for the construction of low dry (i.e. mortar-free) stone walls.

But wooden picket-fencing would be out of place other than perhaps in exceptionally houseproud villages and pony clubs.

Anecdotally, the British cavalry charge at Elouges in 1914 comes to mind. The squadrons set off across apparently open ground, only to find as they closed on the German infantry that their path was blocked by a single-strand barbed wire fence erected by an inconsiderate farmer. I understand that this was fairly close to buildings.

42flanker07 Jan 2022 9:12 a.m. PST

For cultivated land in places such as France, Germany, the Low Countries and I imagine across the Austrian Empire, expect to find cultivation in strips, often marked off by ditches or lines of stones (but generally not walls).

These might therefore create some impediments to movement, but rarely block line of sight. Treelines do of course exist, particularly in flat terrain like the Netherlands where they act as wind-breaks.

Second that Definitely in Low Countries. On polders in central Holland, due to the low water table, what appears to be wide open meadow land is often interrupted by a grid of drainage ditches, which can also provide convenient stock enclosures. These will feed into larger watercourses, artificial or natural, sometimes lined with willow which are coppiced for fuel.

Not too much trouble with field boundaries at Waterloo! There are, ore were, strip fields all the way up the chaussée from Mons to Soignies.

MajorB07 Jan 2022 10:16 a.m. PST

In the UK, in 1801, Parliament passed a General Enclosure Act, which enabled any village, where three-quarters of the landowners agreed, to enclose its land.

raylev307 Jan 2022 1:28 p.m. PST

In the northeast US, New England in particular, the reason for the stone walls generally was because the fields had so many rocks, they moved them to the side of the field and build walls. In Essentially stone walls around fields were related to how many stones were in the fields.

In England, stone walls exist but they're not as common. Hedges became common when landowners divided up the land…I don't remember when this began, but I think it was the 1600s or 1700s.

laretenue08 Jan 2022 12:16 p.m. PST

Raylev 3 – yes, but even 'England' covers quite a lot of variety.I'm thinking of the interests of ECW gamers here.

As already remarked, the Enclosures legislation of the 18c gave the British landscape an appearance different from almost anywhere else in Europe which is still striking today. (Watch 'The Blue Max' and you'll instantly see that it was filmed over Britain ..)

However, as elsewhere, regions with abundant loose or easily-quarried stone use dry-stone walls to mark off fields and these walls are distinctive features if that region. Obvious examples are the golden limestone walls and picturesque buildings of the Cotswolds (a broad arc of the SW extending from Oxford to Bristol) or the granite of parts of Wales or Yorkshire, or the slate of N. Wales.

Yes, ours may be a fairly small island, but local building styles vary greatly, just like accents.

Just to complicate people's terrain planning …

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2022 12:25 p.m. PST

The Blue Max was filmed entirely in Ireland…the Republic of. But laretenue is right in calling this Britain. I will bet this baffles our trans-Atlantic cousins. But Eire is still part of the British Isles, even if not the UK. So I do actually have a "British" passport, but I remain in the EU.

Weird ain't it?

SHaT198408 Jan 2022 12:26 p.m. PST

And it comes down to climactic conditions.
If windy, grow trees; if vermin, put up fences/ hedges around small crops and gardens.

They 'walled' gardens in Europe for a reason; just as they built fortifications on all major axes across the continent.

It also depends what you prefer- aestetic appeal or obstacles and deviations. Or both. Personally cosmetic natural terrain features beats bare wood based hands down.

YMMV/ FWIW,,, da daaa…

Mike the Analyst08 Jan 2022 2:26 p.m. PST

I like to take the paintings of Simeon Fort and T. Yung as representative of the terrain of the battle

Heedless Horseman Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2022 12:51 a.m. PST

Having recently watched some TV doc covering WW1 Battlefields, I was struck by way many current crops have apparently no 'fencing'. There was also an absence of 'stock'…so presumably in other 'enclosed' paddocks.
Historians did mention that in WW1, there was a fair bit more hedging and, therefore Cover… for the early 'mobile' period.

laretenue09 Jan 2022 6:20 a.m. PST

Thanks, deadhead, I didn't know TBM was filmed over Ireland. Which I will not call 'Britain' out of deference to our neighbours. I'm so right-on I even avoid talking about the British Isles. And I proudly hold an EU passport (not Irish) even if I'm mainly resident in the UK (of which I remain a citizen).

+1 to Mike the A's recommendation of the Napoleonic paintings of Fort and Yung. They are excellent.

Jcfrog09 Jan 2022 8:20 a.m. PST

Forget "enclosures". Only around villages gardens and cattle pens.and then it depends on your scale as they might be included in your village area.
Some low piled up stone walls might be in rocky hilly areas. Not necessarily much of a hindrance, in our scales.
All that pre mid XIXth cty. Of course you have bocage etc. In places.
North west Germany can be pretty cut up by sorts of ravines and streams cf.the 7yw battlefields with the French.
More fences and even wire by 1860-70.
And again all this works for the NE part… then you got Italy? Poland?…
period maps, period pictures wouod help.

14Bore09 Jan 2022 9:40 a.m. PST

One thing I am sure of in this area so why not everywhere is a farmer plowing a field will get rocks out as they come up, and best place to put then is only as far as they will no longer be in the way lining his field.

Stoppage09 Jan 2022 6:52 p.m. PST

A lot of stone walls in upland Great Britain were built by vacationing workers during their factories' wakes weeks.

Towns took it in turns to stage their wakes fortnights – furnaces would be re-lined, new plant and equipment installed, etc.

Meanwhile the staff would be carted/railwayed/charabanced to a working holiday location to dig ditches, construct walls, harvest hops, pick fruit, etc.

Bosses and families would go to the seaside resorts or inland spa town.

Stoppage09 Jan 2022 6:57 p.m. PST

The information on Rohrendorf is fantastic:

Although the village itself might be small, the market gardens and their fences would extend the built-up area.

Specialised buildings such as those kellergasses, barns,m mills, and factories would form sub-villages.

All creating an impediment to movement of troops.

42flanker10 Jan 2022 12:43 a.m. PST

A lot of stone walls in upland Great Britain were built by vacationing workers during their factories' wakes weeks

Stone walls in SW Scotland known as 'drystane dy.kes' had their origin considerably earlier. Their construction began at the turn of the C18th to create enclosures for the growing cattle trade, producing miles of 'Galloway dy.kes.' (The highly strung algorithms of TMP necessitate the odd spelling)

This development did have a military bearing, since it prompted the last military confrontations seen in a region which had been largely peaceable since the 'killing times' of the Covenanting period in the mid-C17th.

The enclosure of land sparked mass protests against the 'cattle parks,' since considerable numbers of people put off the land in a process sometimes referred to as the 'Lowland Clearances.'

This came to a head in March 1724 with outbreak of the Galloway 'Levellers' Revolt' in which large bands of ‘dy.kebreakers' set out along the valleys of the Dee and Urr, demolishing lengths of the hated dy.kes, miles at a time.

Organised by parish under elected 'Captains' and drilled by soldiers returned from service in the European wars, the levellers would line up along a length of dy.kes and, with long wooden poles inserted at the dy.kefoot, on the command would lever the stones to the ground with a shout of "Down with the dy.kes!"

The drilling and the primitive pikes enabled the levellers, showing 'considerable military skill,' initially to confront government forces sent to quell the revolt. "Good effective firelocks" allegedly observed in the front ranks supplemented pikes, pitchforks, etc.

The protest lasted into the autumn but in a final confrontation with government dragoons the last major band was broken up and ringleaders arrested, although isolated episodes of levelling continued to be reported for a while.

However, enclosure of land by ‘improving' landlords continued and, with loose granite and whinstane being an abundant resource on the land, the drystane became a characteristic feature of the districts of Galloway, its social implications forgotten.

1968billsfan02 Feb 2024 6:47 a.m. PST

In New England in the US, the land had boulders deposited during the retreat of the last glacial period. What happens during freeze/thaw cycles is that stones gets pushed upwards during freezes, which leaves a space underneatht them. When it thaws, dirt drops down below them, which, over years brings them to the surface. The rocks interfer with plowing for crops and during the winter the farmer collects the rocks and moves them to the sides of the fields over the snow/frozen ground with sleds and oxen. The then pile them into round piles but more often build stone walls to separate fields, clear ground for crops and keep in animals. IF the stone fence was near a road, it slowly dispeared as the stone would be used to fill up road potholes during the thaw or mud season…………. ………. Europe had field crops for a thousand years before North America did, so their fields had been cleared. New England in the USA was farmed just about long enough to clear most of the fields of rocks, when cheap good farmland became available in Ohio and west, and many crop fields were abandoned.

Murvihill02 Feb 2024 6:52 a.m. PST

What billsfan said for New England. In the rest of the USA they didn't fence anything unless they needed to, to either keep livestock in or foragers (like deer or people) out.

johannes5504 Feb 2024 7:20 a.m. PST

When you go to the ferraris map(s) of the Austrian netherlands made between 1770 and 1778 you see various bounderies.
Trees lining roads, fields etc.
Noticable is that villages are mostly grouped houses but surrounded by gardens, trees, fields etc. A village is much bigger with all this surroundings then mostly portrayed on the wargames tables.
You can find the ferraris maps at:


Oh and the battlefield of Waterloo is situated on map nr 78

IN the textblock left upper corner you can eg "waterloo" and it will go to the map

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