THE village of Manfield, to the south of Darlington, was the scene recently for the launch of a book about medieval hunting.

It is written by Richard Almond of Richmond, North Yorkshire, a former tutor at Darlington College, and it looks at women’s roles in what was hitherto regarded as a male preserve.

In the beautifully illustrated Daughters of Artemis, Richard explores evidence drawn from contemporary documents and images, particularly from illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, paintings, carvings, engravings and prints, that shows women from all ranks of medieval society were actively engaged in many forms of hunting.

Aristocratic ladies pursued deer on horseback with hounds and shot at game that was driven towards them, while peasant women netted birds, used ferrets to catch rabbits, poached game and distributed stolen venison.

The launch at the Crown Inn, surrounded by the Zetland Hunt, was topped off by a historically appropriate Medieval Hunter’s Lunch of venison casserole and lemon posset.

■ Daughters of Artemis: The Huntress in the Middle Ages and Renaissance by Richard Almond (Boydell and Brewer, £45)

WHAT else do we know about this village that is a defensive half-a-mile east of Watling Street, the Roman road? The uneven nature of the fields around it suggest it was once much larger – it has been declared a “shrunken village” and is listed as National Monument 29,502 – so we should know much more.

The 12th Century All Saints church grew gradually until it was restored in the late 1840s by architect John Middleton, who was also responsible for St John’s Church, Central Hall and NatWest Bank, all in Darlington.

Since the 13th Century, the village has been under the sway of the Cliffe estate; from 1857 to this year, it had its own school. And, of course, there was the Poison Pen Letter Writer of Manfield who composed 200 missives over a 12- year period until his imprisonment in 2001.

Then we come to the Manfield manslaughter… ON Saturday, July 28, 1855, landlord Thomas Salkeld wanted to evict Matthew Cunningham, a tinker, from his property, probably for non-payment of rent.

First, Mr Salkeld bashed a hole in the wall large enough for him to poke his head in and inform Mr Cunningham of his impending eviction.

Then he climbed onto the roof with a turnip hoe and started to rip the tiles off.

Mr Cunningham – “a rather notorious character having been 11 times in the Northallerton House of Correction, as well as in Durham Gaol”, according to the Darlington and Stockton Times – was not best pleased by this.

He threw stones at Mr Salkeld, forcing him to retreat from the roof and take cover inside. Armed with a cart prop (a large stick), Mr Cunningham followed him.

“After remaining a few minutes, he came out again without the stick and very much agitated and excited,” said the D&ST. “He immediately packed up his furniture into his cart, yoked his three donkeys and along with his wife and two elderly relatives immediately took their departure.”

As they left, his wife was heard to say: “He’s reeght well sarved.”

Mr Salkeld’s wife, Ann, then entered the property and found her husband unconscious and bleeding about the head. She carried him home and called for a doctor who didn’t arrive for two days.

He diagnosed pressure on the brain and returned next day armed with a “trephine”.

The dictionary defines a trephine as “a surgical saw-like instrument for removing circular sections from the skull, another word for trepan”. The trephining didn’t work, and Mr Salkeld was declared dead.

A two-day inquest was held at The Crown. The star witness for the defence was Mark Burnside, “a decrepid old man”, from Blackwell. He and his wife, Lavinia, were the two elderly relatives who had been whisked away on the donkeys.

The decrepit one told the inquest: “I can swear a Bible oath that two or three stones tumbled upon Mr Salkeld, and knocked him down on the floor, and I could give him no assistance, being an old lame man.”

The coroner said that this “was as lame a tale as ever he had heard”, and the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter.

Cunningham was committed to York Castle but, because the only witness was a young boy, the guilty man was imprisoned rather than hanged.

Even into the Sixties, the hovel where the crime was committed was said to be haunted. This, though, is not the only ghost of Manfield.

But the terrible tale of Stephen Hollin will have to wait for another Wednesday.