About Clay Lane
From the late 1920s to the 1960s, Yorkshire schoolmaster NL Clay published a series of books aimed at helping people of all ages to gain a firm command of ‘straightforward English’. Some were anthologies of extracts from essays, novels and poetry, others were puzzles using words and sentences to stimulate creativity and imagination. Clay Lane is a tribute to and a continuation of Clay’s work.

Clay Lane

Clay Lane is a tribute to Norman Llewellyn Clay (1905-1991), a Yorkshire schoolmaster who from the 1920s to the 1960s published a number of textbooks designed to help people of all ages to think, speak and write clearly, to understand more of the world we live in, and to use our imagination. You can find out more about him from my brief bio: About NL Clay.

Why ‘Clay Lane’?

Clay Lane is a common name for minor country roads and paths throughout England. I chose it because it suggests a walk in ‘Clay country’, a peaceful place away from strident voices, where we can rediscover the simple pleasures of noticing the things around us; and because it seemed to evoke his emphasis on ‘straightforward English’.

What Is It For?

This website is not structured as a course, and it will not prepare you for any qualification or examination that I know of. I created Clay Lane for much the same purpose as Clay wrote Advanced English Exercises (1939):

[This book] is designed chiefly for pupils who, [...] free of examinations in English language, can settle down to the task of developing their talents or of making good the gaps in an imperfect command of the mother tongue.

The chief difference is that Advanced English Exercises and most of Clay’s other books were intended for school pupils, whereas Clay Lane is intended for adults.

What is ‘Straightforward English’?

Straightforward English was Clay’s label for a long-standing and varied literary tradition that mistrusted whatever was careless, pretentious or manipulative, and demanded that what men wrote should be plain and to the point. He believed that it this ‘straightforward’ communication was characteristic of the English people.

There is a closer connection between the spirit of a country and the quality of its prose than you suspect. The manly vigour of our people at their best is expressed in straightforward English — clear, hard-hitting when it is necessary, direct and forceful.

What’s Here?

There are hundreds of short passages in The Copy Book for practising reading, elocution (by reading aloud), paraphrase and précis, and for analysis.

There are exercises for oral and written composition, widening vocabulary and handling essential grammar in Think and Speak.

And there is a complete copy of the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible (1611) in Comfortable Words.

Who Is It For?

Clay Lane has been created with self-tutoring adult readers in mind — much like Clay’s own Straightforward English (1949).

Why ‘The Copy Book’?

In Victorian times, a ‘copybook’ was an exercise book used for practising handwriting. A wise saying of some kind would be written into the head of a page by the teacher, and his pupil would then copy it repeatedly underneath until he had mastered a fair and flowing script. The title ‘The Copy Book’ is a reference to Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings, in which he warned of the disastrous consequences that follow if we ignore or scorn these wise sayings, the wisdom of past generations.

Why ‘Think and Speak’?

Think and Speak was Clay’s first book, published in 1929 when he was still in his mid-twenties. It was a bold experiment in child-centred education, in which he encouraged keen observation and vivid imagination as a stimulus to clear speaking and writing. The section I have called Think and Speak includes exercises based on Think and Speak and on Clay’s other textbooks too. These materials were originally intended for boys and girls in their early teens but are quite challenging enough for any adult.

Why ‘Comfortable Words’?

‘The Comfortable Words’ is the name given in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) for a short passage taken from the Gospel According to St Matthew, at Matthew 11:28-30. The word ‘comfortable’ is used in the sense of ‘providing solace or reassurance’.

What Clay Lane Is Not

Although what you will find here is very like Clay’s books, it is not those books themselves. I have made my own selection of passages, added my own comments and footnotes, and thoroughly revised and adapted Clay’s exercises for another time and another medium. Any shortcomings you may find here must be laid at my door.

Clay Lane is not a course in history, literature, or the English language. I am wholly unqualified to attempt such a thing. My role has been editorial: I have found various passages and exercises, presented them online for you to enjoy, and researched such background information as seemed helpful.

About Me

My name is Nicholas Armitage, and I am the creator and editor of Clay Lane. Norman Llewellyn Clay was my great-uncle. I was educated at Durham School, and went on to read Theology at Pembroke College, Oxford; my theological studies then took me back home to Durham University, which is where I first took an interest in teaching English.

Owing to persistent ill health, I was unable to pursue any conventional career, and in 2013 I began compiling the materials that now form the backbone of this website.

I hope that you enjoy visiting my website as much as I enjoy making it.

Nicholas Armitage MA (Oxon) PhD (Dunelm)