Courtyard Farm covers 750 acres of rolling countryside near the Norfolk Coast. Peddars Way, a Roman road, passes a mile to the west of the farm, and goes through Ringstead village, and Roman remains have been found nearby.
On the farm, the oldest of the buildings is a cottage built in 1634, probably used by a shepherd, as the southern part of the farm seems to have been used for rough grazing at that time. Before 1781 the northern half of the farm, like all the land round Ringstead, was farmed in hundreds of small strips of land, owned by many different people, and by the three churches then in Ringstead (only one remains). An archaeological survey of the farm suggests that there was no settlement at Courtyard in Roman or Medieval times, and as the land consists of thin sandy soil over chalk and flint, this part of the parish of Ringstead may have drifted in and out of cultivation, depending on farming's fortunes and the population level.
In 1781 the Ringstead area was enclosed, the strips disappeared, and the existing pattern of large fields and hedges was established. During the next 30-40 years most of the existing buildings were erected at Courtyard, and the two oldest shelter belts, North Wood and Wharton's Belt, were planted. See pdf of pre and post enclosure maps of the farm.
When the land was enclosed, fifty acres were set aside for 'Poor's firing', and planted with gorse (used for fuel, particularly for baking bread). This area, rented by Courtyard Farm, is owned by the Ringstead United Charities and is known as Ringstead Common, and it was also used to provide stone and sand for building. It is now partly farmed (half the area was reclaimed for farming in the Second World War), and the rest is valuable wildlife habitats of rough grazing and scrub.
As well as preserving old hedges and woods, Courtyard Farm has many old marl pits, dug by hand in the early 1800s, to spread subsoil on fields using horses and carts. This reduced acidity - a problem caused by the way the land had been farmed. On most farms, old pits have been used as rubbish tips and filled in over the years.
In 1784 Courtyard Farm was part of the Hunstanton Estate, owned by the Le Strange family, and it was farmed by their tenants until 1946. The present Lord Melchett's father bought the farm in 1959, and Peter Melchett and Cassandra Wedd have been directors of the farming company since Peter's father's died in 1973.