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The Road to Nab End

“Once started, it is impossible to put this book down...the author is a born writer with an eye for character and a natural way of writing...he has the historian’s gift for bringing to life a particular society at a particular time.” 

--Alan Bullock, Times Literary Supplement

“A masterpiece.” --The Independent

“Extraordinarily well written and vividly told, his book is rich in characters, facts, atmosphere, and indomitable spirit.” --Eric Hobsbawm, The Guardian

“A combination of an almost photographic memory, a wonderful writing gift and a keen eye for personal drama, which even Ibsen would have admired.” --Robert Oakeshott, Spectator

“Like finding a great recipe or discovering an old movie on video that may have escaped the notice of critics.” --Gainesville Sun

"I'd always believed that I had been born in our cottage in Griffin Street, until I discovered that I was born prematurely across the street in the carding-room of Hornby's cotton mill. Day long, mother cleaned cotton there. Several days earlier she had received a telegram saying that my father had been killed in France in the Great War and that the War Office regretted it. On the morning of my birth she had fainted before one of the cotton grinders when a second telegram arrived saying that the first had all been a mistake and that my father was alive."

William Woodruff lived in the heart of Blackburn’s weaving community. But after Lancashire’s supremacy in cotton textiles had ended with the crash of 1920, his family was thrown out of work. From then on, including the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Woodruffs faced a life blighted by extreme poverty. Reading this book today, it is hard to comprehend that within living memory--and in what was supposedly the richest country in the world--so many people couldn’t even afford to buy enough food. For the ordinary families of Lancashire, unemployment was an ever-present fear: "If you worked you ate. If there was no work you went hungry." Or, in desperation, you went on a Hunger March to tell the King of your plight.

The Woodruff family in 1917. William is sitting on his mother's knee. photograph © Helga Woodruff

by Nicholas Wapshott 

Sunday Times, London, February 15, 2003