Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School

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The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School coat of arms.jpg
Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
Butterfly Lane

, ,

United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°39′23″N0°18′45″W / 51.6564°N 0.3124°W / 51.6564; -0.3124 Coordinates: 51°39′23″N0°18′45″W / 51.6564°N 0.3124°W / 51.6564; -0.3124
Type Public school
Independent school
Motto'Serve and Obey'
Religious affiliation(s) Church of England
Established1690;331 years ago (1690)
Founder Robert Aske
Department for Education URN 117648 Tables
ChairmanSimon Cartmell, OBE
HeadmasterGus Lock
Age5to 18
Enrolment1,095 pupils [1]
Colour(s)Navy and sky blue   
PublicationSkylark, Skylight, SCOPE, Scribe, Timeline, HABS Geographical, Veritas, The Score
Former pupils Old Haberdashers
Website http://www.habsboys.org.uk/

The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School (also referred to as Haberdashers', Habs, or Habs Boys) is a public school for boys age 5–18 in Elstree, Hertfordshire, England. The school is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and the Rugby Group.


The school was founded in 1690 by a Royal Charter granted to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers to establish a hospital for 20 boarders with £32,000 from the legacy of Robert Aske (equivalent to approximately £5M in 2019). [2] The school relocated in 1903 and currently occupies 104 acres of green belt countryside in Elstree. At its centre is Aldenham House, a Grade II* listed building, that was formerly the seat of the Lords Aldenham and home to Vicary Gibbs MP. [3] While the school once offered boarding to some students, it has since become an all-day school, with the boarding quarters having been converted to offices.

In 2017, it was the Sunday Times independent school of the year. In 2012 and 2016, it was the top independent boys' school in the country. Approximately 20% of its students go on to study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, putting the school at 10th place in the country in terms of Oxbridge admissions. It has also sent boys to top US universities, including Harvard and Stanford. The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School frequently tops the league tables and rarely falls out of the top 10. In 2014, The Telegraph placed the school at 8th in the country for A-Levels – with 80.87% of students achieving the A*–A grades. In 2015, the Sunday Times named Haberdashers' the best school in England owing to its results and resources. [4]



Aske's Hospital, the school's first home Haberdashershoxton.jpg
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 needy 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, 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 to teach the boys English, the catechism, and basic grammar at a salary of £40 a month. Soon afterward, Pridie secured the right to admit pupils from paying parents, allowing him to increase the amount of money spent on the boys' education. However, this right did not last for long.

In 1701, the school instituted new rules that introduced a cap and gown as the school uniform. The school created the position of a master to teach arithmetic and writing. The school continued to cater to poor pupils, 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; by 1714, the school had reduced itself to only eight pupils. 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 the school removed Latin from the curriculum.


In 1818, the Charities Commission announced that the school's buildings required repairs that were too expensive for the company's allotted allowance. However, errors in bookkeeping 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. However, 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, and £12 respectively, and each of the two maidservants received a salary of £8. The pupil 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, the school erected new buildings on the site. The schoolmaster at this time was himself a former pupil of the school and a liveryman of the company. The company increased the school's allowance by £4 and expanded the school's collection of books. 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 behavior 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 school replaced the former reading, writing, and arithmetic curriculum with Latin (having removed it in 1738), Geography, Grammar, Accounting, and Mathematics. By the end of the year, Turner revealed he had spent £748, which exceeded his salary. However, the company committee was satisfied that the significant improvement in the boys' education merited an increase in funding to £800 per year. At this point, the school conducted examinations on a biannual basis.

In 1849, Dr. F. W. Mortimer, Headmaster of the City of London School, criticized 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 the school should teach French instead. In addition, he also recommended the introduction of geometry, business studies, trigonometry, mechanics, and natural philosophy to the curriculum. The schoolmaster at this time, Mr. Carterfield, resisted these suggestions. However, growing dissatisfaction among the school's older pupils led to his resignation later that year. 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 a state-funded Academy.


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 significant increase on previous pupil 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 school increased the leaving age for pupils to 18. In 1898, the school moved the two-halves—the Girls' School to Acton and the boys' to a site just within Hampstead borough, in north-west London – but much closer to Cricklewood. Its formal name was the Haberdashers' Aske's Hampstead School. A preparatory section for boys up to 11 years of age was located at Chase Lodge, Mill Hill. In the 1950s, the closure of Mercers School led to transferring a substantial number of boys to the Hampstead site.


In 1961, the Boys' School moved to its present site at Elstree, Hertfordshire, and changed its name to Haberdashers' Aske's School, Elstree. In 1974, the Girls' School at Acton was reunited with its Boys' School counterpart on an adjacent site at Elstree.

Starting with the move to Elstree, like most public schools, Haberdashers' took several boarding pupils. In 1964, these numbered 75 pupils out of a total of 680 in the senior school. Since then, the school has reverted to being a day school with all pupils traveling in each day, mainly via an extensive school coach service.


See Present day

View of the Clock Tower from Aldenham House Habsclocktower.jpg
View of the Clock Tower from Aldenham House

More recently, several 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 classics series, information technology, history, and politics classrooms. The Bourne Building also houses the school's largest hall (the Bourne Hall) and the library.

Another significant building in Haberdashers' is the T. W. Taylor Music School (named after a former headmaster), containing at its centre the Seldon Hall (a concert hall), several classrooms used for class music lessons, and smaller tuition rooms used for individual (or small group) tuition in musical instruments. Every two to four years, the school hosts a concert at the Barbican in central London. The school has occasionally organised the concert in collaboration with the Girls' School next door. The Director of Music is in charge of the concert.

The Bourne Building also features an assembly hall inherited from the building that previously stood there. This hall is home to a fine pipe organ, built-in 1897 by Henry Willis & Sons for Hove Town Hall and brought to Elstree in 1962. The instrument retains its original specification of 36 stops on four manuals and pedals and is maintained by the Willis firm. [5]

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 stately home, which became the boarding house in 1961, with accommodation for 80 main school pupils, three staff, and their spouses. The Headmaster and his secretary have offices on the ground floor. Other administrative areas were housed there after boarding ended. Although the school uses the house for various purposes, teaching takes place in several buildings that have been built on the grounds, most built around the Quad. The school has named a majority of the school's facilities after persons in the school's history.

Boys playing cricket in front of Aldenham House Habsfrontcricket.jpg
Boys playing cricket in front of Aldenham House

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

On the other side of the Quad is the Maths block, containing the Bates Dining Room and Sixth Form Common Room. The Taylor Music School occupies the third side of the Quad, usually referred to as the 'Seldon' after the name of the performance hall in its center.

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

Behind the Aske Building is the Sports Hall, a modern building which houses indoor courts and changing rooms. Next to it are two large AstroTurf. Inside, there are newly renovated cricket nets that utilize video technology, a classroom, and a large hall for basketball and badminton.

Near the Sports Hall is the Preparatory School ('The Prep'). Trees surround this central campus, which contains a small stream and pond nearby.

The school recently refurbished its library, which now contains various open and screened seating areas, as well as desktop and laptop computers. A team of qualified librarians supervises the library, which serves as pupils' principal work area.

At the beginning of 2014, the school began construction on a new multi-purpose sports complex. Formally called the Medburn Centre, the complex boasts a 24.96m swimming pool and Joe's Café in the lobby area.

The school remains moderately religious; It has a chaplain who takes assemblies as well as teaches. Assemblies are regular and mandatory, following a theme for each term. The school hosts an annual carol service at nearby St Albans Cathedral. The chaplain leads the services, which take place at the end of the autumn term.


Aske Building (built 2004 and named after the school's founder, Robert Aske Askebuilding.jpg
Aske Building (built 2004 and named after the school's founder, Robert Aske

The school admits pupils based upon a school-specific competitive examination (not the Common Entrance Paper) at either 11+ or 13+ (with entry into the Preparatory school at 4+, 5+, or 7+). Oxbridge offers statistics are as follows:


Older averages (2001–2006) placed the school at nineteenth in the country. [4]

The school was ranked 15th by The Sunday Times in their 2006 Parent Power feature [6] on the best independent schools, down from 12 in the previous year. According to the Times rankings, Habs came 12th (out of 1,150 schools) in GCSE rankings [7] and 72nd (out of 939) at A-level, [8] 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 15th place based on A- and AS-level results, [9] and 8th (out of 2703) in their full list ranked by average score per A-level entry. [10]

In the 2015 private school League tables, The Telegraph placed the School 10th in the country for GCSE and achieved a 74% overall A* grade. Similarly, at A-Level, the school gained several places and was listed at 7th in the country [11] having received 83% A*-A grades.

For the main academic subjects taken by boys to GCSE (which consist of mathematics, the sciences, and English), IGCSE papers are written. Mathematics and the Sciences use Edexcel IGCSE papers; English use OCR papers and the humanities – the school offers History, Geography, and Theology & Philosophy – write the Cambridge International Examinations. The Modern Foreign Languages department (MFL) also uses Cambridge International Examinations. Those pupils in the higher sets may sit an additional paper from the Institute of Linguistics, with many of the pupils receiving the top mark – a distinction. Many of the staff and teachers have come from top universities and institutions from all over the world. Most notably, many are graduates from the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. Some Modern Foreign Languages department teachers are native or trilingual speakers, with a small number of quadrilingual speakers.


The school sorts the boys into one of six school houses, [12] each house having their own 'house colour' used on the standard and house ties worn by pupils:

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

While the school places pupils in tutor groups, these are purely for pastoral purposes and are taught in mixed, or streamed, sets.

The school awards several shields at the end of the academic year for competitions between the houses. [13] These shields include:

Throughout the year, there are numerous inter-house events, including sporting and non-sporting competitions such as inter-house debating, inter-house chess, inter-house scrabble, inter-house backgammon, and inter-house bridge, inter-house MasterChef, and inter-house target shooting. The school expects each boy to represent their house in at least one activity. However, many boys represent their houses in multiple activities.

In the Preparatory and Pre-Preparatory schools, the houses are the following:

The house names represent the patron saints of the four states of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland). Bands on students' ties reflect these house colours.


Several ties are available for participation in extra-curricular activities and contributions to specific areas of school life (such as art). [14] These ties include:


The total cost of attending the Main School (Years 7–13) in 2019-20 is £148,113.00 (£7,053.00 per term). The Prep School's (also located on the same site) fees are the same as the Main School. The termly cost excludes extras such as coach fare, lunch, and instrumental lessons. [15]



There are many pupil-run societies at Haberdashers', usually presided over by a teacher. [16]

Debating, public speaking

The school has a strong reputation for debating. In 2010, two out of the four members of the England Worlds Competition Team were pupils at Haberdashers', while two out of the four teams in the Oxford Union finals were from the school. [17] 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.[ citation needed ]

HabsMUN and Model United Nations

The school participates in Model United Nations, partaking in several international conferences. In December 2014, twelve boys from the Lower Sixth attended the Paris International Model United Nations Conference held at the UNESCO Chambers in Paris. The Conference awarded five boys the 'Best Delegate' award, and Habs won the (only three-times awarded) 'Best School' Accolade.

The school also hosts its own MUN conference, HabsMUN, which over 450 delegates attend. The school held the first HabsMUN in 2009, and in 2017 the conference received THIMUN accreditation (one of only four conferences in the UK). Previous attendees have included several American and international schools that travel solely for the conference. HabsMUN boasts a standalone website, the MyHabsMUN online portal, and a mobile app for delegates and advisors.

Combined Cadet Force

Pupils in Year 10 and above may take part in the Haberdashers' detachment of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). [18] The CCF comprises Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force sections. The corps takes cadets on a field day each term to participate in section-specific activities.

School Community Service

Students who do not participate in the Combined Cadet Force are required to do School Community Service (SCS) once a week. [19] This can range from helping out in local nursing homes to teaching skills such as debating to younger pupils. As with CCF, SCS is designed to encourage a sense of responsibility within a community and benefit other people both within and outside the school.

Other co-curricular activities

Sport is a significant activity at the school, with a plethora of different teams and a wide array of sports, including cricket, rugby, fencing and squash. A new multi-million-pound sports complex was completed in January 2016, named the Medburn Centre. [20]

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 school members are also invited to visit Haberdashers' Hall in the City of London.

Coat of arms

School coat of arms The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School coat of arms.jpg
School coat of arms

The school's coat of arms and motto is lent 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 of two arms holding a wreath, were granted to the Haberdashers' Company on 8 November 1570 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux. [21]

Other Haberdashers' Schools

School magazines

Skylark and Skylight are the official school magazines. Boys at the school edit both.

Other school magazines, including SCOPE (Scientific and Technical Journal), The Change (Literary Journal), Timeline (History), The Key (Economics), HABS Geographical (Geography), Magasinh (Mathematics), Veritas (Theology and Philosophy) and The Score (Music), are published regularly.

Notable former pupils

See List of Old Haberdashers

Notable teachers

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Other references