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The Woodruff Collection

Woodruff collectiuon banner woodruff children William Woodruff 1916 - 2008

William Woodruff was born into a family of cotton weavers on September 12th 1916, in Blackburn. He was only four years old when Lancashire's world supremacy in textiles ended in the financial crash of 1920. On finishing school in 1930 the only employment he could find was as a grocer's errand boy. His experiences during these early years are told in his autobiographical novel, The Road to Nab End.

In 1933, at the age of sixteen, he left Lancashire for London where his political ambitions were first aroused during a two year spell working at the Bow Bridge Iron Foundry. This culminated in him joining the Labour Party, led by George Lansbury M.P.

In 1936 a London County Council night school provided the first arena in which Woodruff could excel academically. He won a scholarship to attend the Catholic Workers College at Oxford: a non-university institution led by Father O'Hea that gave just a handful of working-class men and women the opportunity to study. After two years William achieved a distinction in the university's Diploma in Economics and Political Science.

William Woodruff circa World War II A staunch pacifist, Woodruff abandoned these beliefs on the outbreak of WWII and joined the army, serving in North Africa, Italy and the Mediterranean. He was de-mobbed with the rank of Major A/Col after the war and was heavily decorated during his service. These experiences form the basis of his novel, Vessel of Sadness.

Post War he returned to academia and by 1950 he had written his first book, The rise of the British rubber industry. The next 28 years saw Woodruff filling a number of esteemed posts at a variety of Universities around the world including: Fulbright Scholar to Harvard University, Head of the Department of Economic History at Melbourne University, Visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Guest Professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin, at Waseda University, Tokyo, and Visiting Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford. He retired in 1996 after 50 years in academia.

His major works include: A Concise History of the Modern World 1500 to the Present, The Road To Nab End, Beyond Nab End, Shadows of Glory, Vessel of Sadness and Paradise Galore.

William Woodruff died at the age of 92, at his home in Florida, USA, on 23rd September, 2008.woodruff

He is survived by his wife and seven children: two sons, David and Roger, by his marriage to Katharine (1941) and, following the death of his first wife, five by his second marriage to Helga (July 1960): Kirsten (daughter), Mark, Peter, Andrew and Thomas.

For more information on what the collection contains and how to arrange access, please follow the link below:

Woodruff Bibliography and access information (pdf)

 For more information visit the external William Woodruff website:

Search for 'William Woodruff' on Library Search to obtain a list of the material held in the collection.