Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School

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The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School (commonly referred to as HABS) is a British private school for boys aged 4–18. It is situated in Hertfordshire and is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and of the Haileybury Group.

In 1997 the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail named Haberdashers' the best school in the country, and in 2001 was the Sunday Times independent school of the year. In 2012, it was also the top independent boys' school in the country. (qv www.telegraph.co.uk). Approximately one fifth of the student body goes on to study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, putting the school at 19th in the country in terms of Oxbridge admissions.<ref name="image.guardian.co.uk">Top 100 schools by Oxford admissions hit rate, The Guardian</ref>

The school was founded in 1690 by a Royal Charter granted to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers to establish a hospital for twenty boarders with £32,000 from the legacy of Robert Aske (£4,300,000 in today's money).<ref name="haberdashers.co.uk">History of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Elstree</ref> The school relocated from the premises of the old hospital in 1903 and presently occupies 104 acres of greenbelt parkland in Elstree. At its centre is Aldenham House, a Grade 2* listed building, formerly home to Vicary Gibbs and bought from Baron Aldenham.<ref name="guidetoindependentschools.com">Guide to Independent Schools - Haberdashers' Aske's Boys'</ref> In recent years the school offered boarding to a proportion of the school's students.



Aske's Hospital, the school's first home

Following a bequest of approximately £20,000 made by the merchant Robert Aske to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers on his death in 1689, an almshouse for twenty poor members of the Haberdashers' Company was established in 1690 just outside the City of London at Hoxton. Designed by Robert Hooke, the almshouse comprised a Chapel and, at its centre, the school, which provided education for 20 sons of poor Freemen between the ages of nine and fifteen. However, the Chaplain, the Rev. Thomas Wright, was then made master of Bunhill School and was thus unable to teach the boys at Aske's. In 1697, therefore, John Pridie was appointed with the job of teaching the boys English, the catechism and basic grammar at a salary of £40 a month. Soon later, John Pridie secured the right to admit pupils from paying parents, allowing him to increase the amount of money spent on the boys' education, although this right did not last for very long.

In 1701 new rules were introduced which introduced a cap and gown as the school uniform, and the school created the position of a master to teach arithmetic and writing. The school continued to cater for poor students, requiring any boy who inherited £100 or more to leave to make way for a less lucky individual. However, the school began to run into financial difficulties, and by 1714 the number of students was reduced to a mere eight. Hardship continued until 1738 when the Court of Assistants, the senior governing body of the Haberdashers' Company, decided that the favourable condition of the Company justified restoring the school. At the same time, caps and gowns ceased to be the school uniform, and Latin was removed from the curriculum.


In 1818 it was announced by the Charities Commission that the school's buildings were in need of repair and were too expensive for the allowance allotted by the Company. However, errors in book-keeping reveal that, whereas it was thought that the school was £7,000 in debt to the Company, they were in fact £900 in credit. By 1820 the schoolmaster's basic salary was still fixed at £15, although the master at this time, William Webb, received gratuities of £20 in both 1818 and 1819. By contrast the Chaplain, Matron and nurse received £50, £16, £12 respectively, and each of the two maidservants received a salary of £8. The student body continued to comprise 20 poor sons of freedmen, and the curriculum consisted of the three Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) and the catechism.


In 1825, new buildings were erected on the site. The schoolmaster at this time, George Hamilton, was himself a former pupil of the school and a liveryman of the Company. The allowance provided by the Company for the school was increased by £25 and the school's collection of books was expanded. Regular examinations were conducted, with prizes provided for exceptional performance.

In the early days of the school the Chaplain and the schoolmaster both taught, but had separate roles. However, in 1830, the school chaplain was dismissed following scandalous behaviour with a servant-girl. The school was temporarily closed, and when it re-opened in 1831 Rev. J. L. Turner was elected to take both roles and given a salary of £700, from which he had to pay for all costs of the school's management. He was forbidden to take pupils from paying parents. The former curriculum of reading, writing and arithmetic was replaced with Latin (having been removed in 1738), Geography, Grammar, accounts, and Mathematics. By the end of the year Turner reveal he had spent £748, an amount that exceeded his salary, but the Company committee was satisfied that the significant improvement in the boys' education merited an increase in funding to £800 per year. Examinations were conducted at this point on a biannual basis.

In 1849 Dr. F. W. Mortimer, Headmaster of the City of London School, criticised some of the textbooks used and the teaching of Latin, which he thought would be better replaced by French. In 1858 the Rev. Thomas Grose, who conducted the school's examinations, echoed Mortimer's earlier criticisms of the study of Latin and repeated his suggestion that French ought to be taught instead. In addition, he also recommended the introduction of geometry, trigonometry, mechanics, and natural philosophy to the curriculum. The schoolmaster at this time, Mr. Carterfield, resisted these suggestions, but a growing dissatisfaction amongst the school's older pupils lead to his resignation later that year, and Rev. A. Jones became Headmaster, as the title had become known. In 1868 inhabitants of the surrounding area petitioned the school to accept the sons of parishioners as pupils.

In 1874, though not directly related to this school, two new schools, one for boys and one for girls, were set up in Hatcham, South London. They were known as the Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Schools until 1991, when the two were combined as Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College, now an Academy.<ref name="haberdashers.co.uk"/>


In 1874 the almshouse which had housed the school since 1690 closed to give the developing school more space. The school was divided into two-halves, one for boys and one, for the first time, for girls. Each half admitted 300 pupils, a great increase on previous student numbers; £5,000 was spent on renovating the Hoxton buildings; and the chaplain, schoolmaster, matron, and almsmen were pensioned. The foundationers were moved to another boarding school. In 1883 the leaving age for pupils was increased to 18, and in 1898 the two halves were relocated, the girls' school to Acton and the boys' to a site in Hampstead, in north-west London (adjoining, but not in, Cricklewood). Its formal name was the Haberdashers' Aske's Hampstead School.


In 1961, the boys' school moved to its present site at Elstree, initially taking the name Haberdashers' Aske's School Elstree, and in 1974 the girls' school at Acton was reunited with its boys' school counterpart, on an adjacent site at Elstree.

When the Labour government of 1964–70 withdrew the direct grant arrangements, the boys' school became fully fee-paying, assuming its current name of the Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School (HABS).<ref name="haberdashers.co.uk"/>

Starting with the move to Elstree, like most public schools, Haberdashers' took a number of boarding students. In 1964, these numbered 75 students out of a total of 680 in the senior school. Since then, the school has reverted to being a day school with all students travelling in each day, mainly via an extensive school coach service, which has been operated by Hearn's coaches of Edgware for many years.


See Present day

View of the Clock Tower from Aldenham House

Recently, a number of buildings on the Elstree campus have been opened, including the new Aske Building (2004), a multi-million pound science and geography complex, and the Bourne Building, a series of classics, information technology and history classrooms.

The Bourne Building also features at its focus a large assembly hall, inherited from the building that stood there previously. This hall is home to a fine pipe organ, built in 1897 by the famous London firm of Henry Willis & Sons for Hove Town Hall and brought to Elstree in 1962. The instrument retains its original specification of thirty-six stops on four manuals and pedals and is currently maintained by the Willis firm. Another major building in Haberdashers' is the TW Taylor Music School (named after a former headmaster), containing at its centre the Seldon Hall (a concert hall), and a number of classrooms used for class music lessons and smaller tuition rooms used for individual (or small group) tuition in musical instruments.

A full development scheme has been initiated and over a period of time, and the school will be re-built in order to keep up with the changing world. As part of this, the school will be based around two main quadrangles. In the academic year 2009/2010 the school built a new set of changing rooms and expanded its playing fields to ensure high levels of sports provision.

For a more detailed account of the school's history, see the relevant section in Cockburn et al. (1969), referred to below; or in John Wigley's official history of the school, 'Serve and Obey'.

Present day

Buildings and grounds

Haberdashers' is located on the grounds of Aldenham House, a minor stately home. Although the house is used by the school for various purposes, teaching takes place in a number of buildings that have been built on the grounds, most built around a central Quadrangle ('The Quad'). The majority of the school's facilities are named after worthy persons in the school's history.

Boys playing cricket in front of Aldenham House

The Bourne Building, home to the largest of the school's assembly halls, the library and a number of History, ICT and Classics classrooms, is built next to Aldenham House, and is at the top of the Quadrangle.

At the other side of the Quad is the Maths block, which also contains the Bates Dining Room and Sixth Form Common Room. The third side of the Quad is occupied by the Taylor Music School, usually referred to as the 'Seldon' after the name of the performance hall in its centre.

Opposite the Music School is the Aske Building, a complex of Science and Geography classrooms which also contains the Aske Hall which is used primarily for lectures given by visiting speakers. Adjacent to the Aske are the English and Modern Languages buildings.

Behind the Aske Building is the Sports Hall, a large, modern building which houses indoor courts and changing rooms. Next to it are two large astro-turfs and a shooting range. Inside, there are newly renovated cricket nets which utilise video technology, a classroom and a large hall used for basketball and badminton.

Also near these is the Preparatory School ('The Prep'). This central campus is surrounded by trees and contains a small stream and pond nearby.


The Aske Building (built 2004 and named after the school's founder, Robert Aske

Entrance to the school is via a competitive examination set by the school (not the Common Entrance Paper) at either 11+ or 13+ (with entry into the Preparatory school at 4+, 5+, or 7+). Oxbridge offer statistics are as follows:

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
37 25 40 30 32 44 37 32 26 38 37 28 46

Older averages (2001–2006) placed the school at nineteenth in the country.<ref name="image.guardian.co.uk"/>

The school was ranked at 24 by The Sunday Times in their 2006 Parent Power feature [1] on the best independent schools, down from 18 in the previous year. According to the Times rankings, HABS came 20th (out of 1150 schools) in GCSE rankings [2] and 72nd (out of 939) at A-level,[3] though this is largely because most boys at HABS only took three A-levels, and so received a lower total score than other comparable schools. In the same year the Telegraph placed HABS in 44th place based on A- and AS-level results,[4] and 24th (out of 2703) in their full list ranked by average score per A-level entry.[5]

The school has been, to some extent, under-represented in national League Tables, however, because students take IGCSE papers which are uncounted in Government League Tables, and because the school usually limits pupils to taking only three A-Level subjects. Haberdashers' Aske's received a glowing Inspection report in the autumn of 2005, praised for its extracurricular opportunities and pastoral care.

The school also continues to thrive on the American university front, with unconditional offers received from Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University in 2013. In the past decade the school has seen unconditional offers from other top American institutions including Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Boys' Houses

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Upon joining the school, boys are sorted into one of six school houses, each house having their own 'house colour' used on the standard and house ties worn by students:

  • Calverts (Orange, previously Dark Blue)
  • Hendersons (Red)
  • Joblings (Green)
  • Meadows (Purple)
  • Russells (Light Blue)
  • Strouts (Yellow)

The names for these Houses derive from the names of their original housemasters.

In the first two years of schooling, boys are placed in tutor groups according to their House and all lessons are with members of the tutor group; later in the school, members of each house are mixed within each class as pupils are grouped in ability streams. The tutor groups, however, are dependent upon House throughout the school.

Several shields are awarded at the end of the academic year for competitions between the Houses. These shields include:

  • Junior Work and Conduct
  • Middle-School Work and Conduct
  • Senior Work and Conduct
  • The Crossman Shield, awarded for success in inter-house sporting competitions
  • The Dunton Shield, awarded to the house with the highest number of points in the above four categories combined

Throughout the Year there are numerous Inter-House events including both sporting and non-sporting competitions such as Inter-House Debating, Inter-House Chess, Inter-House Scrabble, Inter-House Backgammon, Inter-House Bridge. Each boy is expected to represent their house in at least one activity.


A number of ties are available for participation in extra-curricular activities as well as contributions to specific areas of school life (such as Art). These ties include:

  • House Tie (awarded to boys who have made exceptional contributions to the house, in inter-house events or through reports and tracking grades)
  • Art Tie (awarded to boys who have made an outstanding contribution to Art)
  • Rugby Tie (awarded to boys who are selected and attended the Rugby tour of the year)
  • Aske Tie (awarded to boys who have shown made an outstanding all-round contribution to the school)
  • Senior Honours Tie
  • Prefects Tie (awarded to boys selected as School Prefects in their U6th year)


The total cost of attending the Main School (Years 7-13) in 2013 is £18,867.00 (£6,289.00 per term).



There are many student-run societies at Haberdashers', usually presided over by a teacher.

Debating, Public Speaking and Model United Nations

The school has a strong reputation for debating. In 2010, two out of the four members of the England Worlds Competition Team were students at Haberdashers', whilst two out of the four teams in the Oxford Union finals were from the school. Template:Citation needed In April 2012, the school's Public Speaking team won the East England Public Speaking competition and in the national final, the team became national runners-up. Template:Citation needed

Combined Cadet Force

Students in Year 10 and above may take part in the Haberdashers' detachment of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The CCF comprises Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force sections. The corps takes cadets on a field day each term to take part in activities that are specific to their section.

School Community Service

Students who do not take part in the Combined Cadet Force are required to do School Community Service (SCS) once a week. This can range from helping out in local nursing homes to teaching skills such as debating to younger students. As with CCF, SCS is designed to encourage a sense of responsibility within a community and to benefit other people both within and outside the school.

Other extracurricular activities

A School Charity is also nominated annually to which money raised is to be sent, in addition to the charities nominated by each individual house. The school also holds an annual MENCAP Funday and an annual Senior Citizens Tea Party.

Music is a very popular activity within the school with over half the boys playing at least one instrument as music tuition is available at the school in the TW Taylor Music School. The school has three orchestras, numerous bands and many more smaller groups, some of which are student-run. Sport is also a major activity at the school, with a plethora of different teams and a wide array of sports, ranging from cricket to rugby, fencing to squash.

Links to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers

The school retains strong links with the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, members of which sit on the School's governing body. Each year a deputation from the Livery Company inspects the school and presents St John's bibles to boys in the first year of the Main School (Year 7). All new members of the School are also invited to visit Haberdashers' Hall in the City of London.


The school's crest and motto is leant by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. The arms are blazoned:

Barry wavy of six argent and azure on a bend gules a lion passant guardant Or, on a wreath argent and azure colours issuing from clouds two naked arms embowed holding a laurel wreath all proper, on either side a goat of India argent flecked gules and membered Or

Motto: Serve And Obey

These armorial bearings, including the crest, were granted to the Haberdashers' Company on 8 November 1570 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux.[6]

Other Haberdashers' Schools

  • Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls was established in Acton. The Acton school moved during the 1970s to its current location next to the Boys' School in Elstree.
  • Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College, formerly Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' & Girls' schools.
  • The Haberdashers' Company was also involved in the foundation of other schools such as the boarding Monmouth School, but these are not associated with Robert Aske.

Recent Headmasters

  • 2002– Peter B. Hamilton
  • 1996–2001 Jeremy W. R. Goulding
  • 1987–1996 A. Keith Dawson
  • 1973–1987 Bruce McGowan
  • 1946–1973 Tom W. Taylor

Notable former students

See List of Old Haberdashers

Template:See also

Notable teachers

  • John Knight, footballer and former Chemistry master
  • Dr Ian St. John, historian, dilettante, avid socialist activist and author
  • Clive Rees (born 1951), former PE teacher, captain of London Welsh rugby team and was in the Lions and Barbarians teams as winger
  • Julian Hails, former footballer now a Maths teacher
  • Simon Stuart, inspiring English teacher and author of influential book on good teaching practice "Say"

Media references

  • The recent hit Alan Bennett stage-play and film The History Boys mentions Haberdashers' in its script as a school of academic excellence. In addition, the production notes were supplied by acclaimed historian Simon Schama, an Old Boy of the School.
  • Old Boy novelist William Sutcliffe set his largely autobiographical début novel New Boy (1996) at an unnamed school that is easily identifiable as Haberdashers', for instance by references to the school's location, layout and, most tellingly, motto. The book has since been adapted for the theatre (2009).
  • Oscar Moore detailed experiences of homophobia at the school in his autobiographical first novel A Matter of Life and Sex.



Other references

  • J. S. Cockburn, H. P. F. King, K. G. T. McDonnell (1969) A History of the County of Middlesex. Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century. Boydell & Brewer (ISBN 978-0-19-722713-8)
  • J. W. Wigley Serve and Obey, a History of the School

External links

Template:Haberdashers' Company Schools Template:Schools in Hertfordshire

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