William Woodruff (1916-2008) was a world historian who devoted his life to the study of the historical forces that have shaped the modern world.
In his eighties he wrote two volumes of autobiography – The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End – which became bestsellers in Britain.
He was born 12 September 1916 in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, a cotton textile town which suffered industrial collapse in the 1920s and '30s. From the age of six to thirteen he helped supplement his family's meager income by delivering newspapers; school seems to have been incidental - sometimes just a place where he could catch up on his sleep. At thirteen he left school to become a delivery boy in a grocer’s shop.
At the age of sixteen, when he was a temporary laborer in a brickworks, he ran away to London. For two years he worked as a ‘sand rat’ in an iron foundry. Discovering a love of learning, he attended night school. In 1936, with the aid of a London County Council Scholarship, he went to Oxford University.
During the Second World War he fought with the 24th Guards Brigade of the British Army in North Africa and the Mediterranean region; his wartime experiences became the basis of his novel Vessel of Sadness.
In 1946 Woodruff renewed his studies. Before him lay an academic career at Harvard, Illinois, Melbourne (Australia), Princeton and Florida.
He died at the age of 92 on 23 September 2008.
On 17 June 2010 Oldham Coliseum Theatre presented the world premiere stage adaptation of The Road to Nab End.