1916 – 2008
© David Woodruff
I first penned the following notes in November 2007. I apologize that they have not been formally reviewed for factual errors, completed, or updated. Today, with no time left for the polishing he would have insisted on, my hope is that family members will find them useful as a partial framework for his memory.
My father was born in Blackburn, England, in 1916. He was the fourth child. His grandparents had immigrated to Fall River, Massachusetts, and his parents had, rather unusually, returned to England to work as weavers in a cotton mill. William was born during the Great War and into abject poverty. Two weeks before his birth, his mother received a telegram saying his father had been killed in France. On the day of his birth his mother received a second telegram saying there had been a mistake and that his father was alive. William was delivered two hours later in the cotton carding room of the factory. The extraordinary story of his Lancashire childhood is told in his best selling book: The Road to Nab End; a book that was on The London Times best sellers list for a full year. For all of us raised under other circumstances, the abject poverty of the factory workers is almost incomprehensible; it shaped William in ways that I am only just beginning to understand.
With the collapse of the English cotton industry the Woodruff family became destitute. The cotton mills closed, half the adults were unemployed; people starved to death. The family had to move to a single room in a slum at Nab End. At age 13 in 1929, he left school to become a grocer’s delivery 'barrow boy.' After the wealthy grocer suffered a stroke William was lucky to get a job in a brickyard. At age 16, he ran away to London. He approached the unknown with resourcefulness and self-reliance honed by hard times. He always counted himself lucky to have been born in Lancashire and doubly lucky to have been born poor.
In a second book, entitled Beyond Nab End, William described his life in the slums of East London, during the Depression. He eventually got work as a 'sand rat', or molder’s assistant, in an iron foundry, which was a hard and dangerous job. He joined a labor union; discovered he could keep warm in libraries and began reading books – serious books. He enrolled in night school and was introduced to what his Irish grandmother had called 'larning'. Through what can only be described as good fortune, he landed a job as an assistant to the chairman of the London Water Board. His life at the bottom of the social heap had shifted suddenly from the most dangerous manual labor to a wood paneled office overlooking the Thames River. In turn, and based on his aptitude for the books, he won a London County Council scholarship to Oxford. He joined the Catholic Workers’ College with nine other working class men and women who had been selected nationally for being a 'spark in the clod' – for their potential of becoming future leaders in the Labour movement.
At the time, university education was a distinctly upper-class privilege. Some Oxford dons and students were puzzled by, and hostile to, the whole enterprise of having the likes of William present. His introduction to academia involved one putdown after another. But he rose to this challenge and after receiving distinction for the University’s Diploma in Economics and Political Science, he successfully petitioned his way into Oxford University without the required entrance exam. He joined St Catherine’s Society in St Aldates [now St. Catherine’s College] and began to study for a degree in Modern Greats. With a scholarship from the Walls Ice Cream family he was even able to travel to Belgium and Germany, and escaped from the latter on the last train at the start of World War II.
The War interrupted his studies and his life. Full of youthful illusions and patriotism, he joined the army to defend his homeland. After a year and a half in the ranks as a private, he was commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals. He fought with the 24th Guards Brigade of the British 1st Infantry Division in North Africa, Italy, Greece and Crete. The original 24th Guards Brigade was destroyed in the Battle of Anzio. He was mentioned in dispatches and modestly told us that he was awarded "two rows of gongs". In 1946 he was demobilized with the rank of Major - A/Col. He wrote two books describing his experiences of 'the years the locusts ate'. Vessel of Sadness is based on the inconceivable four months it took for the Allied armies to fight their way 40 miles from Anzio to Rome. This book has been translated into many languages and described as one of the most moving war stories of all time. Some readers have been unable to bring themselves to finish it. In his novel, Shadows of Glory, he describes the fate of his peers on an Oxford rowing crew – all perished. When the war ended he was lying alone on a stone floor in Athens, behind a closed door with a skull and crossbones painted on it, fighting typhoid. The British government forgot its troops in southern Italy; it took him seven months to get home. He was by then devoid of political ambition. It took him 20 years to purge himself of the nightmare of Anzio and war.
William returned to his wife and son; I first met him when I was a talking toddler. He returned to Oxford in 1946 and completed his degree. He became a university lecturer at Nottingham and taught history to veterans at night school, commuting by train and bicycle for two hours a day. He completed his PhD in economic history at the University of Nottingham. Thus ends the first third of this remarkable man’s life.
During the period 1950–1966 William’s academic career took off. A fellowship in 1950 from the Houblon-Norman Committee of the Bank of England enabled him to complete his first book, The History of the British Rubber Industry. In 1952, he won a Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard University. The following year he was recruited to the faculty at the University of Illinois. In 1956, he accepted the position of founding Professor and Chair of Economic History at the University of Melbourne in Australia and assembled an international faculty, a first for Australia. He served briefly as Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Commerce.
In 1959, his first wife and my mother, Katharine [Kay] Wright, died of cancer. In 1960, he married Helga Gaertner, a lecturer in German at the Australian National University. They were together for 48 years and raised five children. William and Helga spent 1965 in the United States where he was a scholar at the Institute of Advanced Study, at Princeton. This sabbatical led to numerous offers from prestigious universities. The family moved to Gainesville, Florida, in 1966; William's appointment as Graduate Research Professor allowed him to escape the distractions of administering a growing department and focus on his own scholarly work. He produced five major books – all illustrating his trademark strength in global syntheses before that became commonplace.
Impact of Western Man
America’s Impact on the World
The Struggle for World Power
The Emergence of the International Economy
A Concise History of the Modern World – now in it’s 5th edition.
His writings were translated into several European and Asian languages and enjoyed critical acclaim. He received honorary degrees and visiting professorships in Berlin, Tokyo, and Oxford. Not surprisingly, he was not prepared to play the academic career game by conventional rules. He never wrote for the professoriate, to score points, but for the 'intelligent bloke' who wanted to know what had happened and why. He had no time for entitlements; he judged people on their merits rather than their pedigrees. He had no time for self-promoting academics or their society. And yet he counted some of the leading thinkers of the century among his colleagues. He retired at age 80, in 1996, as a distinguished world historian.
After 1996 William kept busy. The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End were extraordinary successes. TV crews flew in to Gainesville to record his interviews. The National Defense University in Washington tapped him to write a piece on 'The Battle for Anzio' for the Joint Force Quarterly.
His big concise history book required constant revision as the world changed around him. His original global vision became the norm but the relative power of the major players changed dramatically. He correctly predicted the decline and fall of communism and the Soviet Union. His projections for the Middle East may or may not pan out; time will tell. Having experienced the collapse of the British Empire, he forever cautioned against American imperialism abroad and exaggerated idealism at home. He predicted that the post Cold War world would require greater consensus building and less superpower politics; that Islam constituted a religious, not a military, threat to US interests; and that our religious and political experiences ought to have taught us that Western systems of economic growth and development would not find universal acceptance or validity anymore than Christianity and parliamentary democracy have done.
He loved life in Gainesville. His home was his refuge, his universe. He would be the first to tell you that his good fortune was entirely due to Helga’s constant attention to all the details. Helga not only ran his household and his affairs but also contributed to the shaping of his prose and the editing of his writings. Some of the phrasing in my account here may be hers. My father was frustratingly modest about his own achievements but never once failed to credit Helga for her contributions. They made a great team.
I’ve told you nothing of the private man, William Woodruff. He would prefer it that way. He loved walking, fishing, roses, simple life-style, and intelligent conversation. He had zero tolerance of pretension, and a similar intolerance of fools – especially those in authority. He had a nasty attitude towards most things that lack any redeeming or lasting quality.
On Monday, September 8, 2008, after using his exercise bike, he fell and broke his leg. His femur was repaired surgically the following day. By Friday September 12, he was well enough to receive telephone calls from well-wishers on the occasion of his 92nd birthday. Unfortunately, his recovery was halted by a massive stroke on September 14th. Although he was given only three days to live, he proved to be a 'tough nut' to the end; he passed peacefully at 12:37 a.m. on September 23, 2008. He left us dressed in his favorite shirt and slacks - his army battle jacket tucked under his folded arms. May he rest in peace.
Links to obituaries
I will always remember William Woodruff as Professor Woodruff. I first met him when I was a graduate student at University of Florida in the Dept. of History. I took two courses he taught and later he asked me to be his research assistant. I spent three years working side by side Prof. Woodruff during the time he was writing The World at Bay, which later became A Concise History of the Modern World. Under Prof. Woodruff's tutelage I completed my thesis, grew as a scholar, and came to appreciate the art of telling the story of our past. Prof. Woodruff was a true intellectual who had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of all fields. History for him was not just an academic discipline or a profession. He loved learning and his genuine passion impacted those around him. He was also a master teacher who made every day in the classroom a joyful experience. As a lecturer, there was none better. His storytelling was beyond compare, his sense of humor was smart and witty; couple that with a charming Lancashire accent and you have a college professor right out of Hollywood central casting. Simply put, he was the standard for inspired teaching. Prof. Woodruff had a tremendous impact on me as young man. He taught me about work ethic - a man from northern England who grew up in the mills in the early 20th century knew a thing or two about work ethic, believe me. He also shaped me as a teacher. When I entered graduate school as a 21 year old, I did not have a goal to teach. He helped me find that spark within and then nurtured me as I developed my teaching skills. Finally, Prof. Woodruff set me on a course that would forever shape my life. In his blunt Lancashire way, he challenged me to see the world, to learn something about life. My first trip overseas was due to his encouragement. I spent time at his beloved Oxford and later at University of St. Andrews; ultimately spent ten years teaching in Europe in the 1990s. I kept in touch with Prof. Woodruff and visited him whenever I was in Florida. He was always a gracious host as was his wonderful wife, Helga. I have fond memories of riding my bike to his house, sitting with him in his study drinking coffee, and just learning by listening and watching. As a great of a professor and writer he was, Prof. Woodruff was an amazing husband to Helga, father to his children, and friend to so many. He may be the only person I've met in my life who lived as if that day would be his last. I am appreciative of the time he spent with me, the lessons imparted, and his friendship. John Phillips
My Grammother and family all lived on Griffin st same time has William I have a signed book of his he signed in America great story got all the books, well I would have I came from Blackburn I have lots of stories Gramma told me about Blackburn 1888.
I am again reading The Road to Nab End; for the 3rd time. I will no doubt read it again in a few years time. This time I had to skip the part where that awful man took over Grace and Betsy. I want to scream at them to turf him out! It is just too sad to read this bit again. It is one of the few books that I re-read. It is just magical; the characters spring to life. What happened to Wilf; the lad who lost his legs? I wish William's family would update these characters. Did that awful man take all of Betsy's money? Is her farm house still standing? Etc, etc, etc. Can the family post any pictures of these people or places online for us to see? I'd love to see any of William as a lad, but I don't suppose he had any taken. Best wishes to his family.
I picked up 'The road to Nab end' in a charity shop . It took me a while to get into it but, having lived in the Rossendale valley in Lancashire, near Blackburn, much of what he described still rings true. They still have a deep distrust of 'outsiders' (I am from East Anglia), they still are unambitious and not very intelligent or if they are intelligent it is quickly quashed. The area now has many shoe factories and the aim of most parents seems to be to get the kids into a shoe factory much as it used to be their ambition to get them into a mill.Anyone who wasn't just like them (plodding unambitious, happy to stay in the same home and same job forever) is regarded with disfavour. I can remember working hard in the shoe factory as a single Mother,on piece work, trying to make ends meet and earn enough money for a decent lifestyle, when the union rep' came and told me that unless I slowed down to their level, they would send me to Coventry. I refused and not one person in the whole factory would speak to me or acknowledge me. As soon as I was able I managed to get out of the backwards place and into modern society again as I moved first to Warrington and then back to Cambridgeshire where people don't get held back just because it isn't the done thing to try and improve ones self!
I must admit I picked up 'The Road to Nab End' on a car boot sale because it looked interesting. What a book. What a man. I couldn't put it down. My own grandparents were born at the end of the 19th century and were spinners and weavers. I hadn't realised just how many hardships they had to endure. I've never been to Blackburn but I felt throughout the book that I was a close and intimate friend of Williams and by the end I knew the places and people he introduced me to. What a lovely book 'The Road to Nab End' is. I can't wait to read the others. Thank you William for sharing these memories with us. God rest your soul. Anne
Dear Helga and William's seven children,
I want to write a comment here to you all to tell you of the pleasure William has given me through his two 'Nab End' books 'The road to Nab End' and 'Beyond Nab End'.
Not only did I enjoy the historical aspect of William's story, his telling of life in England through the first half of the last century, but the personal aspect of story too. He brought the past to life in such a spectacular manner, incorporating humour, sadness and joy. He was the most talented of writer.
I feel rather foolish to admit that I actually cried at the end of 'Beyond Nab End' at William's recollection of returning home after the end of the war to his first wife and meeting his eldest son David for the first time, even down to describing the outfit he was wearing. If it was his aim to 'tug at the heartstrings' of his readers he certainly succeeded. I was so very moved by this account.
I believe William was in his 80's when he wrote the books. To that end it is rather phenomenal that he could recall in such detail his life events, his family and the other people and friends he met during his life's journey and bring them to life in such a vivid, interesting and sometimes poignant way. By the way he told his story it was just like he was recalling the events as if it was yesterday and not many decades before. This is surely testament of this wonderful man's intelligence.
It is such a shame that William only documented the first third of his incredible life. Through the power of the internet William's readers have discovered that after 'Beyond Nab End' he went on to live a very long life. He went on to marry twice, have seven children and have an amazing academic career as a world historian that took him all over the world. What an interesting read all this would have made!
I have just begun reading Vessels of Sadness and so far this is another incredible read. I have Shadows of Glory and the Concise History of the Modern World in my bookcase ready to read.
I'm very disappointed in myself at discovering William's books only now, 5 years after his death. I would have loved to have had the honour of meeting him.
David writes in his obituary that TV film crews came to his Florida home to interview him after the success of the two 'Nab End' books but I've been unable to find any footage of these interviews. If any family member has any footage I'm sure it would be greatly appreciated by William's readers if they could be uploaded here to the website for us to enjoy.
If William was here today I'd thank him from the bottom of my heart for sharing his story and being such an inspiration. Rest in peace Professor William Woodruff. Thank you for the memories. You were one of England's finest.
Carol - England.
I am half way through Road to Nab End for the 2nd time having first read it years ago. Having a day off work today I walked along Griffin Street and thought about William's own father walking along this same street all them years ago to find work in other towns and what a long walk that would have been each day. I will never moan again about catching a train to work in Accrington. Having grown up surrounded by all these mills, until I read this book I never understood what exactly the cotton workers had to endure. My own family were classed as rich in his book in the 'posh end of town' probably near where his uncle Eric lived. Nab Lane is still there to this day but only a small section of it is left with no houses on it anymore. I asked my own mum what Nab Lane was like back then after reading his book 1st time round and she said oh they were very poor who lived there and always felt like bringing all the children home for tea. As I was walking along Griffin Street today I wondered which was his old house. William Woodruff will always have a place in Blackburn people's hearts thanks to his books. I still go in the Griffin Pub now and again for a night out and when I walk past the kitchen often think of William as a small boy sat there listening. Amazing writing by an amazing man. RIP William.
As someone born and bred in Blackburn thoroughly enjoyed Williams stories.As someone who knows Blackburn very well I would like to know we're a outs is this Nab End? Does this place exist or is a figment of Williams imagination?
I have just finished Beyond Nab End, the description of places , smells, events and happenings are brought to life so vividly you become a part of the book.
I never went to University, William's detail and knowledge gave me an insite on what it must be like to study further.
An excellent way to learn history and the thinking mind of man.
I went on a journey and enjoyed every second of it, thank you William Woodruff
I have just finished reading The Road To Nab End, I am 41, born and bred in Blackburn. I didn't realise what hardships and poverty my family must have lived through and how Important Blackburn then was. William would surley have a shock if he came back now!!! Finishing the book I feel like i've lost a friend, I came to know and love Billy in this book. I was transported to a different time with him. It was great to read of all the places in Blackburn some still there and some long gone. I drove past the Griffin pub the other day on the way to Witton Park and instantly thought of him and his family. Can't wait to read what happens to him in The Big London............
How I wish I could have had the privilege to meet William Woodruff. I've just finished The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End and found both books inspirational. What adversity this gentleman has overcome in his life! My mother was born in 1908 in Oldham Lancashire, one of 6 children. She left school at 14 to become a weaver and most of her family were employed in the cotton mill. So many of her early memories are echoed in The Road to Nab's End, such as delivering her own father's hotpot. I was born in 1950 and until 1969 I lived in a 4 room terraced house, and used to go to the public baths for a bath. My 'escape' like William's was Education, yes with a capital 'E'. I agree with other readers that his books should be compulsory reading! His spirit and enthusiasm for life shine through the pages, and inspire the reader. I now intend to read Vessel of Sadness. My condolences to his family, but how fortunate you were to have descended from this wonderful man.
Monica Haley email@example.com
September 2011, and I am writing from in Queensland Australia, having just finished reading Beyond Nab End, sent to me by my sister in England - that in itself is unusual since she is politically very much on the conservative side (I was the aspiring socialist in the family!) but she had loved the book, found William's story inspiring and knew I would enjoy it. That was an understatement - I could hardly put it down and know that it will remain among my most treasured, and re-read, books. And of course now I will try to get hold of The road to Nab End. I was born in 1944, in south-west England and in quite different circumstances, but William's book brought back to life many of the stories I heard from my parents and grandparents about those years leading up to WW2. The chapters about Oxford were particularly resonant as this was where my parents met in the the 1930s - my father had grown up there (and was, like William, a student at St Catherine's) and my mother had gone up from a remote Cornish village to study French as a member of the Society of Home Students (later St Anne's College). Throughout her life, she regarded Oxford as a golden city and treasured her years there as perhaps the happiest of her adult life. How she would have loved William's book. His life provides a wonderful example of how hope, persistence, integrity and solid work can overcome all manner of adversity. Good on him!
I have just finished reading The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End, which gave me enormous pleasure. Although I did not experience abject poverty, as he did, nevertheless I strongly identify with his struggles to progress via study at evening classes, going to university later in life, and even going to the public baths for a bath, all of which also happened to me, and I guess to many others as well. Truly inspiring books, for which very many thanks.
Professor James Hough,
University of Loughborough
I have just read The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End, I was utterly enthralled. I have urged my husband to read them, as he had them first. My husband's mother was from Darwen, and his father Blackburn. He also had cousin's named Kenyon, and a relation had a shop in Bamber Bridge. This added to the interest in the book. I am from Oldham and although brought up surronded by mills had never set foot in a mill until my late forties! My generation had the chance to go into other work. I would dearly loved to have been able to write to William and tell him how his books have affected me. I hope Oldham "Rep" perform Nab End again.
I will go on reading more of his work, and I hope to go and explore Oxford and trhe places he so loved. Sleep Well, William. Jennifer Barker nee Jones a Oldham Lass.
I have just read The road to Nab End and enjoyed it. Our family was born in Blackburn although we moved to Gloucestershire over 25 years ago.
Many of the words brought back happy memories of our childhood.Thank you, Phil Wood.
Thanks for keeping this website going for those of us who are discovering Woodruff's writings. My husband, a Yorkshireman, recommended the Nab End books and I moved on to Shadows of Glory and Vessels of Sadness. The reviews of the latter are accurate. I had to look up from the page a few times - Woodruff's recreation of the experiences of soliders and Italian civilians felt so painfully accurate.
Our library also supplied A Concise History of the Modern World, and I may buy a copy because Woodruff's perspective is so genuinely global. I've not travelled so widely as he did, but having grown up in the States before settling in England, I value his range and depth. Molly Kenyon
I corresponded briefly with William a couple of years ago and was greatly saddened only to discover his death today. We exchanged thoughts on family experiences of our beloved, industrially-derelict Lancashire. He was accessible, good humoured and open to the world. The success of his books is a tribute to how he struck a chord with the millions who lived and worked in North West mill towns over the last three or four generations. Lovely to know you William !!!
John Kolodziejski - Journalist
I live fairly near Blackburn and visit regularly to see my son who is in hospital there.I try to see the town through Mr Woodruff's eyes having read and enjoyed both his books about his life in Nab end and beyond.I visited what was left of Griffin street and am familiar with all the places he mentioned.His books and the recollection of my parents moved me greatly.R.I.P.
What exceptional writings, the 'Nab End' books are. Having recently read them, I wrote to William in January 2008, to thank him and ask if there would be a 'Beyond, Beyond' book.
He very kindly took the time to reply and said he hope to write it one day. Sadly he never made it, but what a heritage he left us!
I have just finished reading The Road to Nab End which I picked up in a charity bookshop. So impressed was I with it that I looked up details of the author and found this website. How touched I was by the triumph of the human spirit in such desperate poverty. My own father emigrated from Ireland in the late 1940's, first to England, onto New Zealand and then onto Australia where he found work as a plasterer in Melbourne preparing for the Olympic Games of 1956. He rarely spoke of the hardship of his early years, but as a humble yet proud man who hadn't had many opportunities in his own life other than those that he grasped through hard work and honesty, he did everything he could to support me to be the best I could be. This book painted a picture of the world my father left behind. I would not want to endure the poverty, but how important it is to know of the struggle of these ordinary heroes and the pride and resilience with which they went about their lives. Rest In Peace Dad.
I found the book "The Road to Nab End" in an Age Concern shop a few weeks ago in the small market town in Lincolnshire. I can honestly say that it is the best 50 pence I have ever spent on a book. What a fascinating, hard to put down and compelling reading it was. I was so inspired William Woodruff's writing that it actually made me want to find out so much more about the man. I can only imagine and hope that all those people who have been luck enough to have have been taught by this man realised what a wounderful man he must have been. I am very much looking forward to reading his other publications.Thank you Mr. Woodruff.
my father John Gilbertson was born in in Cumbria , the son of a coal miner. who eventually went to Manchester university and did an exchange to Bonn university in summer 1939 when your father was also at Bonn. I wonder is my father was ever mentioned by your father. He was in the intelligence corps during the war and worked at Bletchley park. Any information would be very welcome
I too picked up one of your fathers books, Beyond Nab End, from a charity shop and enjoyed every page. It brought back wonderful memories of Oxford and Port Meadow. My father and most of the men from our village and surrounding area worked at the car factory. Unlike your father, mine enjoyed his war years and looked back on them as an escape from poverty. For him they provided a chance to see the world and passed pleasantly enough on board the Ajax moving prisoners around the Mediterranean. He selectively forgot battles and gunfire in favor of memories of fun and friendship in far away places. I am looking forward to finding and reading more of your father's books.
I have never read a more moving biography than William Woodruff's Road to Nabs End and Beyond Nabs End, Just by chance i picked them up in a charity shop in Barnard Castle while i was on holiday.The best find in a long time. i am going to pass them on to my daughter to read she is 24 years old and it will give her a real insight into how the working class suffered through the capitalist system.
In these so called difficult economic times in the 21st century Williams Biography should be read as an inspiration for all
A tribute to William Woodruff
When my younger son, Paul, found the details and photographs of William Woodruff and the pages of tributes to him for me on the computer I was delighted that at last I could write down my own appreciation of his work and of my correspondence with him.
My tribute also begins by my reading his book The Road to Nab End which I found by chance in Smith's bookshop.
The book so impressed me that I had to buy and read his second book Beyond Nab End. By then I wanted the author to know how very much both these books had impressed me and how very enjoyable I had found them.
What a great writer!
I should say here that I was brought up in Stockton Heath, Warrington, Cheshire, not far from Blackburn in Lancashire and had visited that area several times.
I was also born in the same year as William and during my childhood I too was poor though happy.
I knew that William Woodruff was at Florida University in Gainesville where my elder son Peter had spent a year lecturing in Geography and I asked him if he knew William. He told me William was a close friend of David Niddrie who was a professor in the geography department and that William Woodruff was the Graduate Research Professor in the history department. Because of this Peter was introduced to William and often met them both at the cultural evenings at the university.
Peter successfully traced William Woodruff's address and telephone number and received permission for me to write to him which I did. William answered by return saying he appreciated my letter about his books. From then on we became what I like to call pen friends.
I had written several articles and also stories of parts of my own life which William kindly asked me to send to him. He was most encouraging and helpful, placing one of these in the Lancaster University Archives. He always replied promptly to my letters.
I was proud to be in touch in this way with so eminent a writer and world historian. I have his book A Concise History of the Modern World and also the two books of his own experiences during World War II Shadows of Glory and Vessel of Sadness. Both are very real and touching.
William also kindly asked me to read and comment on the script he had written of Valley in the Mist, a children's book (I believe still not published). I felt most honoured yet inadequate to do this as you will understand. He wrote to thank me for my comments.
I still have most of his correspondence to me up to his death, which came as a great shock and a real sadness.
I have since written my own World War II experiences and am sad indeed not to have been able to send a copy for William to read. It is the story of my life during that time as a young wife and mother. My husband was in the RAF during the war years and we were living in the Cheshire town where I was brought up, during those years, and for a short time afterwards.
I lost two cousins in the war, one at sea and one in the air, and my husband lost one too. My husband's cousin Stanley Stott was killed in Italy as a Sergeant in the 8th Army on 7 August 1944. I believe William was in the area at that time.
I often think of William's books and feel his loss now that no letters come and I can no longer seek his advice.
I received a kind letter from his wife after his death saying how her husband had enjoyed this correspondence.
I offer the highest praise for his writings and my thanks for his extreme kindness to me. I hope you may be pleased to hear of this appreciation from one of his fans.
Mrs Betty Lewis Heather
Two wonderful books.
Hugh Wain, Berkshire.
Hello there, Woodruff Family,
I just want to say how much I've enjoyed reading William Woodruff's Nab End books.
My mother's parents were born to cotton weavers in Burnley, Lancashire in 1901. My grandparents were sent to work in the Queen Street Mill in Harle Syke part-time when eleven-years-old, full-time aged thirteen. That's where they met. They married in 1924, and headed for America. However, they got off a boat in Bermuda. My mother was born there shortly afterwards. My grandfather worked as a house-painter, my grandmother did sewing, and they saved up and returned to Lancashire, missing their families. My grandfather invested in a furniture business near Blackpool, but it went bust in the 1930's Depression. They ended up returning to Bermuda with two of their three children, and my grandfather worked for the NAAFI.
My grandparents lived modestly in Bermuda after the War, grandfather dying in 1978. My grandmother lived a remarkable 104 years, dying in 2005, outliving my mother.
One of my grandparents' sons, who had been left in Lancashire and educated at Nelson Grammar School went on to be the Executive Vice-President for General Insurance, and a Director, at American International Group. He retired from AIG about 20 years ago.
My mother's children have returned to England.
Two of my grandparents' grandchildren won Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University.
As a boy I visited the Queen Street Mill where my grandfather's sister was still working. She wore clogs. She retired in late 1961 and moved to Morecambe, and died of a stroke a few months later.
My hobby is family history and reading Nab End brought extra life to my own family.
May I also say that William wrote beautifully. He makes history come alive, gives it body and soul. I shall be reading more.
Good on you all!
I to have just finished reading the Road to Nab End and thoroughly enjoyed the beautifully inspirational book. I like so many others was saddened to hear that William Woodruff died in 2008, I would loved to have passed on my thanks to him for sharing his thoughts from his childhood. I feel that perhaps this book should be read by children these days as most want for nothing and could never imagine being so poor. What inspired me was the happiness and fun they shared. I've never experienced being that poor, how incredibly difficult it must have been. We can't imagine today what it must have been like for those families who just didn't have enough money (or even any at times)to feed themselves! Looking forward to reading the sequel. Karen Haslemere
My Dad was also born in Lancashire in 1916, his father worked in the cotton mills from a very young age. Dad is a very healthy 93 year old and discovered The Road To Nab End and Beyond Nab End last year. He was enthralled , The Road To Nab End totally mirrors his recollections of life in pre war Lancashire. I am presently enjoying reading both books and talking to Dad about his experiences. William Woodruff's writing paints such a vivid picture and makes us all realise how lucky we are to live in today's society. Peta Corner. Charlotte USA
It is August 2009 and I have just 'discovered' William Woodruff. My greatest regret is that my father, who was born in 1904 not very far from Blackburn, never read his book The Road to Nab End. Oh how he would have enjoyed it -- like coming home again!
My children must read this book - to show them how far we have come and how fortunate we are. God bless William Woodruff and the stories he has left us. Mark Emmerson of Bermuda.
I finished Mr Woodruff's sequel, and now I've ordered his "A Concise history of the modern World" from 1500 to present. This guy was amazing. What really struck me about his life, was that he received support from family and friends even when they did not understand what he was doing. In contrast, i received totally no support in my life, so I can see the value of it. (quote from Annette Hall's mom.) My mom also said that she really felt like the stories were very real to her because she visited many of the places Mr. Woodruff talked about.
I HAVE JUST FINISHED NAB END AND RUSHED TO MY PC TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS WONDERFUL INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR.I WANTED TO WRITE TO HIM AND TELL HIM HOW HE HAD GOT ME THROUGH A VERY LOW PERIOD IN MY LIFE,ONLY TO FIND HE HAD PASSED AWAY. MY MOTHER BROUGHT UP 9 OF US IN A ROOM AND KITCHEN IN THE EAST END OF GLASGOW AFTER MY FATHER DIED OF CANCER IN THE 1950'S, SO I AM NO STRANGER TO POVERTY, BUT WE NEVER EXPERIENCED ANYTHING LIKE THE DIRE HARDSHIP WILLIAM LIVED AND TRIUMPHED THROUGH. I AM SO PROUD OF HIM BECAUSE HE IS A CHAMPION OF THE WORKING CLASSES. EVERY SCHOOL IN BRITAIN SHOULD ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO READ THIS BOOK AS A MATTER OF COURSE AS CHILDREN THESE DAYS ARE GIVEN TOO MUCH, TOO EASILY AND DON'T UNDERSTAND THE STRUGGLE THAT WENT BEFORE AND ARE ILL EQUIPPED IF GOD FORBID, IT HAPPENED AGAIN.LIKE WILLIAM, I AM GLAD I WAS NOT BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON IN MY MOUTH. GOD BLESS HIS FAMILY, PAST AND PRESENT.
I have just finished reading The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End and thoroughly enjoyed them.I then went on the internet and found that this extraordinary gentleman had passed away.This saddened me, although i did not know him i wish that i had.His idealogy, temprement,and ability to enjoy life in general even through great adversity described in both these books made him what he was and made the world he touched a far better place to live in.Thank you for that and Rest in peace william woodruff.
I communicated with william by email about 5 years ago and informed him that my grandfather once worked at the ironfoundary, Lucy, which was at the bottom of his garden in Oxford. i was thrilled that he took time out to send me a very gracious reply. i have since found some photographs of my grandfather at the foundary and i thought i might send a copy to william when i discovered on his website that he had passed away. i was very moved by all his books and especially about his experiences in italy where my father served. like william my dad returned home after the war to a son whose birth he missed. bob brechin ( now living in derbyshire )
I hsve just read Nab End and Beyond Nab End.What wonderfully descriptive writing, from a man who as you read you felt you knew him and the people he wrote about.As I read the books I would look around at my family and comfortable home and weep for those people.Who accepted what ever life threw at them and just did the best they could.What a wonderful man.His family must be very proud.Sheila Essex.
There are similarities in our backgrounds and when The Road to Nab End was first published I emailed him with a question. The reply from the great writer was immediate and inspiring. Allan Cheetham London, England
I have just finished reading The road to Nab End it really touched me.When I read the things that happened to his family I was so sad. My granny and grandad suffered simarly when they were bringing up their children in the 1920s.My granny had thirteen children but only reared six.They lived in back to back houses with one room up and one down. William must have been a wonderful man,I wish I could have come across his book sooner while he was still alive.
Have just read The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End - what an extraordinary man - his books are an exceptional insight into life in Lancashire in the teens 20s and 30s - I found his account of Brenda's lack of schooling heartrending - how many Brendas are there - - I think William may have something to teach us today as we head into a world recession. Can't wait to read his war memoir. Delighted to see that we on this side of the Irish Sea can claim a bit of William with his Irish granny and her love of 'larnin' !. John Heuston - Dublin
Reading the Nab End books left tears in my eyes, I wish I could have met William, what an incredible life, and what a wonderfull man....Ray Ingram
As a Lancashire lad born and bred and living in Blackburn, I daily pass the places that William grew up around, Griffin Street and the Griffin pub is only two miles away from my Livesey Branch Road home. It's not hard to imagine William and his hand cart delivering his grocery's around town, he tells his story so well, the Fielden house lies ruined now just a few hundred yards away from my home, it's not hard also to see the young William making his way to the big house hopefull for enmployment. My family were also weavers at Hoghton Bottoms, and the noise and the smell of flax never leaves you. I intend to take some photographs of areas mentioned in the books and place them on Google Earth, William was indeed a survivour, but also a brilliant writer. I have read many books but none has had the evocotive impact that 'The Road To Nab End' has had on me. Andrew Livesey, Blackburn, Lancashire, Nov 2008.
I have read Williams book "The Road to Nab End and Beyond". A truly wonderful and inspiring story. Through his own words William Woodruff and his works will remain a testament to the people and times he lived through. His descriptions of his life experiences, family, friends and lovers were truly moving. To me William sets an example to all humanity. I extend my sincere condolences to his family on their loss not only to them but the loss he is to the whole world. David Bolt, Suffolk, UK.
I found the Nab End books in our library quite by chance. (I was looking under "W" for another author). I do not often read books twice, but these I have and on my next visit to the UK will buy them. Penny, Hermanus South Africa
I just finished reading the Road to Nab End and was so moved by it that I looked up the author and discovered his recent death. I would like to send a tribute to his family. I went to school in Blackburn in the 1950's and 1960's I left there back on the 1970's I come from generations of cotton workers. I was told by my family of the terrible hardships that they endured when cotton was no longer king. The book brought it all to life in the streets I am so familiar with and made me understand my family as I never did when they were alive. I must read the other books although I know it won't be easy. William whilst telling the story of his life has given voice to the wider story of the ill used Lancashire workers including my family.I thank him for that. With love Maggi
Williams life story almost mirrors my father's in Manchester. The whole family were desperately poor yet extremely intelligent. Like William my father was offered to go to Oxford after the war, but he had two little children and a wife to support and therefore could not go. What a shame. May William's books go from strength to strength, what an amazing man. My father would have loved him.
A fine man just passed away. He proved repeatedly that the Human Spirit is stronger than any circumstances of poverty. We are all the poorer today. Please convey my Condolences to the greater Woodruff family. YET,in Memoriam for William. The tears flow, yet I am not weeping, My heart aches, yet I feel no pain, I am lonely, yet I do not feel alone, There is no wind, yet the change still blows, The dawn is grey, yet still the sun is shining, William left us, yet still he is here. I wonder, yet I am still assured. There is a Heaven, yet I know no where. William may be there, yet I know this is certain. Time stood still, and yet waits for no man. Requiescat in Pace. Inspired by the death of my wife Jill a Lancashire Lass Sincerely, Paul P Burns Preston Lancashire
I am very sad to hear that William Woodruff has passed away. On reading his book Road to Nab End you felt as though you really knew him and that he was definitely a determined person who never gave up easily. The world has lost a great writer who told it as it was in Blackburn Lancashire in the early 1900's. The world has lost a great writer and a lovely man who was very clever. Josie Boyd, Church Lancashire.
I have read and re-read William's Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End over and over again and took something new from them every single time. He must have been a lovely man to know and I would like his family to know that he must have been an inspiration to many people all over the world. Barbara Hardaker, Bolton-le-Sands.
I am deeply saddened by Williams death, His book the road to nab end is an outstanding record of 1920s and 1930s Blackburn, I have been conducting guided tours of Blackburn for the past eight years, These tours are called Nab End tours . We visit areas associated with the book, I never had the pleasure of meeting William but always felt his presence on the tour. I am sure this book will entertain many new readers for generations to come, It is a masterpiece and deserves to be an international best seller. Simon Entwistle Clitheroe Lancashire