BY the time you've said Blacknest' you've virtually passed through it.

Yet this tiny Hampshire village has been the scene of two vicious killings, both of which centred on the village pub.

Few drinkers at the Jolly Farmer, a quaint country pub near Alton, would today know its dark secrets as all that remains of its predecessors is a small, round garden where they once stood.

More than 100 years ago, Cyprus Knight, the drunken landlord of the Cricketers, opened fire on his wife with a shotgun. She died and within hours he was detained by police, taken toWinchester by train and, after his trial, was hanged.

The pub no longer exists and neither does its successor, which was destroyed in similarly horrific circumstances almost 19 years ago.

The Jolly Farmer was devastated by a massive explosion which rocked the tiny community at 2.40am on December 5, 1989.

The loud bang was heard more than two miles away and the emergency services were at the scene within 15 minutes.

All that remained was a chimney stack and the pub's sign. Christmas presents lay strewn across the roads and beer casks were found more than 100 yards away in adjacent fields.

The second chef, Clifford Howes, was dead, his first floor bedroom, having taken the full force of the blast, had collapsed into the cellar.

The 34-year-old died an agonising death, burned alive trapped beneath blazing bricks and beams.

Bar manager Richard Dean was pulled from the wreckage after neighbours had seen his hand poking through the bricks and mortar.

His rescuers described the scene as being like the movie Excalibur - which told the story of King Arthur - when they saw an arm push through the slates of the roof.

They clambered up onto the rubble and pulled him out of the fire whilst his flaming underpants melted onto his skin.

Dean, who now lives on the Isle of Wight, suffered burns to more than a quarter of his body and later battled mental scars.

It was initially thought to have been just a tragic accident, until the following morning when a strong smell of petrol was detected in the cellar.

Detectives were convinced they were dealing with something more sinister when it was discovered the telephone wires around the pub had been professionally cut. A murder hunt was launched.

The fire was started by pouring gallons of petrol down through the wooden cellar doors and the killer/s had made a homemade wick to ignite the fire. However when it fizzled out the vapour from the petrol had built up in the atmosphere.

An automatic dehumidifier, which had been installed in the cellar only weeks earlier, came to life and an electric spark caused the bomb-like explosion.

Former landlord Arthur Thompkins this week recalled the night he was told his pub had been razed.

"I had no knowledge of it at all until four or five in the morning, when I got there I was told that one person was in hospital badly injured and another person was missing," he said.

"They didn't find Clifford at all and they kept saying that he must have wondered off and it wasn't until they excavated right down into the cellar that they found him.

"The full force of the blast went straight up through his room and it would appear that everything came down on top of him because he was right down at the bottom of the cellar."

Mr Thompkins, who sold the Jolly Farmer five years ago, remains convinced the attack was a case of mistaken identity.

With at least 21 J o l l y F a r m e r s s c a t t e re d around the UK, and at least seven currently in Hampshire, the former p u b l i c a n believes the a r s o n i s t s simply got the wrong pub.

" T h e r e w a s absolutely no reason to target us.

The police had all these theories (for a motive) but they found nothing because there was nothing to find," he said.

"It was just a quaint little pub in the middle of nowhere. Why would anybody target it? It's ridiculous.

"I'd like closure, I'd like to know the answer but it's a thing in my past now and you have to move on. I'm resigned to the fact that I'll never know."

A car was seen speeding away from the pub seconds after the explosion, but despite numerous public appeals the driver has never been identified.

Recalling his investigation, retired Chief Supt Mike Southwell said he was still haunted by the case as it remained unsolved.

"It's not closed and there are still things that we need to find out about that case. I am convinced to this day that the murderer is still detectable,"

he said.

The case - w h i c h remains open - was reviewed in 2003, but generated no new lines of enquiry.

Det Insp David Crouch said: "It may well be that there is a member of the public who reads this story, has information about this crime and to date has not come forward.

"It may well be that with the passage of time and changes in loyalties that person would now come forward.

"These cases are reviewed periodically and as changes in DNA technology dictate."

Anyone with information can call the northern major crime department at Basingstoke on 0845 045 4545.