This was the dramatic scene captured by the Andover Advertiser in the early hours of Sunday, October 9, 1983, when the Country Bumpkin mysteriously caught fire and was razed to the ground.

Hundreds would have packed in there on the previous Saturday night to enjoy the weekly disco entertainment but thankfully, everyone had already gone by the time the inferno started.

The town awoke to the news that the building had been destroyed in the night and was nothing more than a smouldering ruin of corrugated iron and metal girders. People going by in the early morning light could not believe the sight that met their eyes as the building that had stood there for 75 years was no more and was quite literally, here today and gone tomorrow.

I have already written in this column about the earlier history of this former Drill Hall or Territorial Army (TA) Centre, built in 1908 by builders Frank Beale and Sons, to provide a training base for that unit. Throughout its history, though still belonging to the army, it was the venue for innumerable dances, entertainments, performers and functions whenever it was not needed for a military purpose and the money from lettings helped the finances of the TA itself. Even political meetings were held there: Patrick Donner MP who then lived at Hurstbourne Park spoke there and, on the other side of the coin, the well-known communist Harry Pollitt addressed 600 trade unionists in the 1940s, urging them to support the war effort.

The music evolved over the years from the Charleston of the 1920s to the waltz, the quickstep, rock and roll, skiffle, jive, reggae and disco, as each decade succeeded another, while, whatever the current style, the youth of Andover flocked to the venue on a Saturday night, many meeting their future partners on the dance floor, despite the haze of cigarette smoke and perhaps emboldened by the products of the bar.

After being the centre of local entertainment for so many years, by the 1960s, the old hall had become somewhat battered and pounded, and was also facing competition from the Fiesta Hall that had opened just down the street. At some point, the TA put it up for sale. Apparently, Andover Borough Council was interested but it was compulsorily purchased by the Post Office which wanted to use it for just one week each year for Christmas mails. Then, in 1971, it was sold to Anton Promotions Ltd, run by well-known Andover businessman and councillor (Stanley) Lance Barrett who was to become the penultimate mayor of Andover before Test Valley District became a borough in 1976.

The old hall was brought up to date, given the name The Country Bumpkin Club, and it became a venue at which national and (occasionally) international acts performed, with a varied programme that ran from Wednesday to Saturday nights each week. Occasionally there was a Sunday antiques fair or another more sedate event, which must have necessitated a pretty concentrated clean-up after the revels of the previous night.

But there were always the downsides. Trouble was avoided inside because of the bouncers at the door but fights outside were frequent, especially in the later years. There was antipathy between soldiers and civilians who always seemed to want to ‘have a go’ at each other. One incident, widely reported, involved about 100 people and the subsequent appearances in court whenever a fracas occurred usually included the phrase ‘a disturbance outside the Country Bumpkin’, which did the venue’s reputation a good deal of harm, so much so that there were representations by the management to the Press to avoid mentioning any connection to the club, which in itself was trouble-free.

In the week before the fire, it was advertised that admission to the club was £2 throughout October. On Friday, October 7, the DJ was Mike Fox, the following night Mark David, the final event ever staged there. Not to be, on Wednesday there was to be a Youngsters’ Disco, on Thursday a so-called ‘Pubcotheque’ and on Friday the curiously-themed Single, Separated and Divorced Over 25’s Night with DJ Martin Lee. For this latter event, admission for men was £2 but women were allowed in free.

The site today remains much as the Country Bumpkin left it. All the debris was cleared away and it seems to function as a somewhat run-down private car park. Why it has never been re-developed is a bit of a mystery, the answer to which must lie with the wishes of the present owners.