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The Road to Nab End (Nab End #1)

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  476 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
William Woodruff had the sort of childhood satirised in the famous Monty Python Yorkshireman sketch. The son of a weaver, he was born on a pallet of straw at the back of the mill and two days later his mother was back at work. Life was extrememly tough for the family in 1920's Blackburn - a treat was sheep's head or cow-heel soup - and got worse when his father lost his ...more
Paperback, 407 pages
Published January 3rd 2002 by Time Warner Books UK (first published 1993)
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Sep 24, 2015 Caroline rated it did not like it
A book whose cover is generously splattered with positive reviews from the high and mighty, like The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator.

An interesting book insofar it demonstrates the levels of poverty to be found in Britain in the early 20th century. It describes life in the cotton weaving town of Blackburn - both in it's heyday and when the mills went out of business. Spoken through the life experiences of William Woodruff and his family.

The writing style was not to my t
Oct 21, 2007 Adam rated it really liked it
William Woodruff is an historian, economist, and author. He's British, but he lives in Florida. He's old, having emigrated to the States after life in Lancashire and London in the early 1900's.
That combination may not, at first glance, instantaneously translate into "ooh, exciting" in the eyes of literary hipsterdom. Sure, perhaps the occasional horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Bright Eyes-listening kid might secretly yearn to really, truly understand the depth and nuances of the rise, decline, and f
Jul 30, 2009 Wayne rated it it was amazing
I grew up in Blackburn and unknowingly walked past the end of the street where the bigginig of the book is based every day on my way to and from secondary school. If you live or have ever lived in Blackburn Lancahire read this book. If you have any interest in the cotton industry in the uk read this book.
The biography of an ordinary working class boy.
Janith Pathirage
Jun 21, 2015 Janith Pathirage rated it it was amazing
I haven't read many autobiographies but this's the best one I've had so far. Such a magnificent story!!. I'm not sure these are 100% genuine life events, because it reads like a fictional tale. It actually felt like reading Nicholas Nickleby rather than reading an autobiography. If all of these happened for real one must admire William Woodruff's photographic memory. He could even remember the poems sang by a cart driver whom he met only once in his life when he was just 10 years old. It really ...more
Jan 27, 2015 Anthony rated it it was amazing
It too me a long time to get round to reading this book, as a lad born in Blackburn it was a must read. And I loved it! Originally publish in 1993 under the title 'Billy Boy' it was re-released under the new title 'The Road to Nab End' by the publishers in 2000. The new title I guess is a nod to George Orwell's book 'Road to Wigan Pier' which covered the same era. (Originally published 3 years before Angela's Ashes)

Firstly this is an interesting history of the decline of the cotton trade in Lanc
Jun 17, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it
A wonderful memoir that reads like good fiction masterfully told by a great storyteller. This is William Woodruff's recounting of his life as a child and adolescent in the cotton mill town of Blackbuurn, Lancashire in the 1920s and 1930s. It is about grinding hardship and miserable poverty. Yet, there is lightness as well as the telling gains more momentum and we become attached to the principal characters - William's romantic mother and taciturn father and his three older siblings. This is a ...more
Nov 22, 2008 Kristi rated it really liked it
Picked this up for cheap at my local thrift store. So far it's interesting.

Ok, I ended up really liking this book. It read like fiction, to me. I find myself fascinated with how people lived without all the conveniences that we are so accustomed to. Reading this book also made me stop and think about how incredibly blessed I am. My closets and cupboards are full and I have a vehicle to take me wherever I might want to go. I felt ashamed of my lack of gratitude when reading about the struggle tha
Judith Johnson
May 21, 2016 Judith Johnson rated it it was amazing
Wonderful read. I recently visited Lancashire for only the third time, and would love to go back and see more. I visited a Toby restaurant in Bolton (see my blog!) which had been converted from the 19th century 'Gentleman's House' of a Master Cotton Bleacher. William Woodruff's book tells how the other half were living some years later. Now very keen to read his history books, and I'll be encouraging my husband, whose family come from the mining community of the Welsh Valleys, to read this book ...more
Sep 28, 2010 Ann rated it it was amazing
A great book told from th point of view of a young child growing up in a working class town, Blackburn, in Lancashire England. The family are all working in cotton mills -- their lot in life.

The book is somewhat reminiscent of "Angela's Ashes" -- but somehow less depressing. There is always escape to the hills putside Blackburn -- walks, games and freedom out there help the kids and workers survive their long hours of backbreaking work for little pay. The writer seems to attract "mentors" -- or
John Hart
Jun 21, 2015 John Hart rated it it was amazing
My late father was from Lancashire, just a few years older than William Woodruff. Although he endured some hardships as a child, they were nothing compared with Woodruff's upbringing. This is a compelling book. There is no self pity or looking back to "what ifs". You believe him when he says he is glad his family was poor because it taught him so many valuable lessons of life and living, and of the honesty among those in the same situation. Within minutes of finishing this wonderful childhood ...more
Anne Tucker
Jan 02, 2016 Anne Tucker rated it it was amazing
I am not usually that keen on reading this kind of book (personal memories) , but this is a real exception ... its quite fascinating, engaging and funny, and beautifully written. He divided the topics up by chapter - all are really good, anf he brings ~~Blsacvkburn in the heyday of the textile industry to life in a magnificent way... It starts in 1916 (when he was born) and as the book goes on, the slumps and depression hit cotton manufacturing and the hardships are more and more sou-destroying. ...more
M.J. Johnson
Jul 26, 2016 M.J. Johnson rated it it was amazing
Autobiographical account of a childhood spent in Blackburn, a Lancashire cotton- weaving town in the early twentieth century. Woodruff never writes sentimentally about the terrible hardships these working-class people faced throughout the depression years. Unusually for an autobiography I found it utterly compulsive reading. It is the first of two parts and I definitely mean to read its sequel . A very fine slice of social history without the lecture; a masterfully-written account of an ...more
Dee Buck
Jul 25, 2013 Dee Buck rated it it was amazing
I didn't want this book to end. It made me laugh, it made me cry. Great characters brought to life by Mr. Woodruff. Fabulous!!

This autobiography was the October selection for our library reading group. It is the biography of William Woodruff, now an eminent historian, from his birth in 1916 in the Blackburn cotton factory where his mother was working to the point he ran away to London at age 16. It describes his upbringing and his family's struggle to survive during the period that the Lancashire cotton industry went into decline in 1920 through to the Great Depression and beyond. It is a story of considerable hardship
Ian Harrison
Sep 29, 2015 Ian Harrison rated it really liked it
A fascinating insight to life in Blackburn from the First World War and through the dramatic decline in the cotton industry. It was a very compelling read. Although an autobiography, it was highly readable and kept me fully engaged in it. The descriptions of the poverty experienced by the author and his family were so real. On the one hand utterly depressing in that such poverty existed in England less than 100 years ago, but on the other hand a fascinating insight into what was a very real ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Mollie rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. William Woodruff painted a very vivid picture of life in that part of the 20th century. However, I too found it difficult to work out the reason for his mother's trip to Blackpool, where she did a spot of prostitution. It seemed so totally out of character but people have all sorts of reasons for their actions and I suppose she put morals to one side in order to earn enough money to get what she wanted out of life.
Feb 22, 2009 Bernadette rated it liked it
i enjoyed this book although I found some real contradictions between the family living on the bread line but then being able to improve their housing st a time when work in the cotton mills was on the decline. I also couldn't get my head around the mother's trip to blackpool where seemingly she did a spot of prostitution to earn a few coppers. Apart from that it did evoke a certain time and place and the decline in the cotton inducstry reminded me of stuff I'd done at school on social history.
Nathan Sinclair
Jan 12, 2016 Nathan Sinclair rated it really liked it
Book 1 of my reading challenge done. This was a really weird, enjoyable-yet-uncomfortable book to read. All of it happened less than 100 years ago and in my country, yet I've read High Fantasy novels that I had an easier time relating too. I thought I had a pretty solid understanding of British Politics and the origins of the modern Labour movement, and communism in Britain and such, but this has made me think there's more to it than that.

In any case, it was a fascinating book to read.
Jun 27, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it
This is a most interesting autobiography of William Woodruff who grew up under circumstances most of us would consider extreme. It's Woodruff story but also that of his family and the local community of weavers, and the labor movement in northern England. I'm looking forward to reading the next volume.
Feb 26, 2013 Viola rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
hmmm, the writing of the book was rather boring, I grew up with a lot of things like that, and I thought, I would learn more about England... not exactly catching, I found... the only thing I learnt, is that life in England and Germany was not so different, except England had a welfare system back then, which we had not... well, it was not really a welfare system... tough times throughout Europe.
Mar 18, 2015 John rated it really liked it
A good read, though it did drag its heels at times. I really enjoyed the fiction-like quality that kept Woodruff's story engaging. The ending was very abrupt and unsatisfactory after the richness of the previous pages, but readers will find that his next book, Beyond Nab End, more than makes up for the brevity.
Derbhile Graham
Jul 13, 2015 Derbhile Graham rated it really liked it
A beautifully written story, and the understated quality of the writing just adds to its emotional power. It demonstrates that even within the most ordinary childhood, there lie extraordinary stories.
Mollie Lyons
Aug 02, 2013 Mollie Lyons rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It created the atmosphere of those times so well and I can recommend it as a really good read for anyone who has an interest in a true and well written piece of actual social history.
May 15, 2010 Clare rated it liked it
Both books in this series well worth reading for insight into how incredibly tough life was in England as a result of war, oppression, poverty and what amazing spirit and tenacity was revealed in all those circumstances. Compelling and inspiring.
Apr 01, 2015 Dave rated it it was amazing
What a great read, a book that I will long remember. The author has given a strong and well written account of working class life in Twenties Lancashire. A fine and stirring book, long to be remembered.
Jan 15, 2015 Dinallissima rated it did not like it
At the beginning I enjoyed it but some how The book could never get me interested to want more and to keep going back to it.
I have been dragging it for a while and just won't bother reading it . Not my cup of tea.
Jul 27, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok
I quite enjoyed the first half of this book - looking at life through the eyes of a small child growing up in poverty in 1920's Blackburn. The latter parts however were less interesting, and I almost gave up half way through. Couldn't work out why some of the chapters were even in there.
Brilliant character observation. Warm yet sobering description of life among the working class of Blackburn between the wars.
Mar 14, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it
Interesting read although suspect that not all came from his memory. Layout of book confusing at times.
Nov 11, 2010 Khumairah rated it it was amazing
this book really opens my eyes about the outside world.most importantly,i started to count my blessings after reading it..
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William Woodruff was born in 1916 into a family of Blackburn, Lancashire cotton workers. At 13 he left school and became a delivery boy in a grocer's shop. In 1933, with bleak prospects in the north of England, he decided to try his luck in London and migrated to the filth and squalor of the East End. Then in 1936 with the encouragement of a Jesuit priest and the aid of a London County Council ...more
More about William Woodruff...

Other Books in the Series

Nab End (2 books)
  • Beyond Nab End

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