William Woodruff 1916 -2008
William Woodruff was born in Blackburn, 12th September 1916. He was a writer and a historian.
He left school at thirteen to supplement his family's meagre income by working as grocer's lad. At sixteen he ran away to London - ending up labouring as a "sand rat" in an iron foundry. His potential was spotted by T.G.W.U. officials who encouraged him to study at night school. He went on to study at Oxford where he met Katherine Wright whom he married in 1941.
During the Second World War William fought with the 24th Guards Brigade of the British 1st Infantry Divison in the Mediterranean region. From the crucible of war he forged his novel Vessel of Sadness. After the War, he returned to Oxford and won a scholarship to study at Harvard. He became a professor at the University of Illinois teaching economic history. Katherine died and he married his second wife Helga in 1960.
After his retirement at age 80 he wrote about is childhood. Originally published in 1993 as Billy Boy, William's autobiography became a best seller when it was re-issued in 2000 as The Road to Nab End. Seen through the wider eye of the historian, the book is a vivid description of life in Blackburn during the Great Depression in the 1920s. It is full of joy and sorrow, Lancashire humour and poverty. An exerpt from the chapter "Griffin Street": "I’d always believed that I had been born in our cottage in Griffin Street.
'Ah, no, Billy,’ mother said one day, ‘that’s where tha wrang; tha was born in t’ mill.’
‘But that’s not what it says on my birth certificate.’
I discovered that I was born prematurely in the carding-room of Hornby’s cotton mill, which was only a few minutes from Griffin Street. Day long, mother cleaned cotton there.”
The sequel, Beyond Nab End was similarly successful and William Woodruff's career was crowned with literary acclaim.
Video by Kari Pack Productions
The following film about the life of William Woodruff appears by kind permission of Blackburn College Media Department. The short film is presented by Simon Entwistle. With grateful thanks to Kari Pack Productions including Tye Murray (Editor), Lucas Davies (Producer), Alex Burns (Camera Operator):
Select the following link in order to view the video: The Road to Nab End