A town crier has been hailed a hero for saving the lives of his neighbours when their village pub called fire – by shouting out a warning.
Nigel Wilkin, 62, was making breakfast at about 7am on Saturday morning when he smelt smoke – and realised it was coming from the pub next to his home.
Dressed in his dressing gown and slippers the town councillor went outside and saw smoke coming out of the roof tiles of the Windmill Inn at Necton, near Swaffham, Norfolk.
While pub landlords David ‘Scooby’ Whitehair, 55, and his wife Mandy, 57, slept peacefully, Nigel ran over and put his town crier skills to good use by bellowing out: “Scooby, your kitchen is on fire.”
Now, David and Mandy have hailed their neighbour as a “hero”, and credit him with saving their lives.
David, who has run the pub with his wife for the last 15 years, joked: “We’re going to get him a cape with a big ‘S’ on it.”
But he added: “I just can’t find the words to describe what we owe him. We are so thankful for him.
“If it wasn’t for Nigel, I think it would have been a totally different outcome – it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“We phone each other regularly and he’s always looking out for us, and isn’t afraid to step in if there is a problem. It’s a real comfort having him as a neighbour.”
David added that he and Mandy were left a bit confused when they were awoken in the early hours of Saturday morning by Nigel banging on their door.
He said: “I thought I was dreaming at first. But then I woke up and realised what was happening.
“He was there yelling out, ‘Scoob, your kitchen is on fire’, at 7.15am on a Saturday morning.
“I think the whole village must have heard him. It’s lucky we sleep with our window open.
“People tell you not to panic in the event of a fire, but my god did we panic. I went to let Nigel in, and then it was just a mad panic as we rushed around in our dressing gowns.
“The fire was contained to the kitchen by the fire door, but when we went towards the kitchen to go and see what was happening, the heat was just so intense, we knew we just had to get out.”
And Nigel, who has been the town crier for Swaffham for the last six years, said: “Thankfully, due to my very loud voice, I was able to wake Scooby and Mandy up pretty much instantly.
“It’s just fortunate that I’m used to making my voice very loud, due to my experience as a town crier and also a wedding toastmaster, where I’ve had to command a room of 400-500 people.
“But I was in my kitchen at just the right time – if it had been ten minutes earlier, I probably wouldn’t have been able to smell the smoke yet, and I would have taken my breakfast back to bed.”
And he joked: “The three of us were a bit of a sight, all standing outside in our dressing gowns and slippers.”
David phoned the fire brigade just before 7.25am, and four fire engines arrived on scene at 7.37am.
He said: “I think they arrived just in time.
“If it had been any longer, the fire might have spread to upstairs – and because it’s such an old building, it’s got straw cladding in the roof and the walls.
“It would have been a disaster.”
David and Mandy are waiting to hear from a fire officer as to what the exact cause of the fire was.
But they don’t anticipate being able to use their kitchen again for at least six months – leaving many elderly residents in the village without their takeaway hot meals from the pub.
David said: “It is heartbreaking not being able to get their meals to them. A lot of residents in the village rely on us for substantial hot meals.”
And Nigel added: “Scooby does so much for the village, he is really dedicated. They are such a lovely couple, they really are.”
A fundraising page has been set up to help David and Mandy with repairs after the fire tore through their kitchen – and has so far raised over £3,600.