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Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School

Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School

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

In 2017, it was The Sunday Times independent school of the Year. In 2012 and 2016, it was also the top independent boys' school in the country. Approximately 15% of students go on to study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, putting the school at 10th in the country in terms of Oxbridge admissions, and has also sent boys to top US universities including Harvard University and Stanford University. 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 grades achieving the A*–A grades. In 2015, the Sunday Times named HABS Prep the best school in England due to its results and resources.[2]

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).[3] The school relocated from the premises of the old hospital in 1903 and presently occupies 104 acres of greenbelt countryside in Elstree. At its centre is Aldenham House, a Grade II* listed building; it was formerly the seat of the Lords Aldenham and home to Vicary Gibbs MP.[4] Until the early 1980s, the school offered boarding to a proportion of the school's students; however, it has since converted to an all-day school, with the boarding quarters now converted into offices.

The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School is located in Hertfordshire
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School is located in England
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School is located in the United Kingdom
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
Butterfly Lane


United Kingdom
Coordinates51°39′23″N 0°18′45″W [25]
TypeIndependent school
Public school
MottoServe and Obey
Religious affiliation(s)Church of England
FounderRobert Aske
Department for Education URN117648 [26] Tables [27]
ChairmanBruce Powell
HeadmasterAugustus Lock
Age5 to 18
Enrolment1,095 pupils[1]
Colour(s)Navy and Sky Blue
PublicationSkylark, Skylight, Scribe, Scope, Timeline, HABS Geographical, Veritas, The Score
Former pupilsOld Haberdashers
Websitehttp://www.habsboys.org.uk/ [28]



Aske's Hospital, the school's first home

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, 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 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 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, and by 1714 the number of pupils 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 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, new buildings were erected on the site. The schoolmaster at this time 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 £4 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, accounting and Mathematics. By the end of the year Turner revealed 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, Business studies, 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.[3]


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 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 leaving age for pupils was increased to 18, and in 1898 the two halves were moved, the girls' school to Acton and the boys' to a site just within Hampstead borough, in northwest 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 the transfer of a substantial number of boys to the Hampstead site.


In 1961, the boys' school moved to its present site at Elstree, Hertfordshire, and 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 a number of 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 travelling in each day, mainly via an extensive school coach service.


View of the Clock Tower from Aldenham House

View of the Clock Tower from Aldenham House

See Present day

The Bourne Building also features at its focus an assembly hall, inherited from the building that stood there previously. 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]

Another major 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), and a number of classrooms used for class music lessons and smaller tuition rooms used for individual (or small group) tuition in musical instruments. Every two to fours years the school hosts a concert at the Barbican in central London. This has occasionally been organised in collaboration with the girls' music school next door. The director of music is in charge of the concert.

More 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, history and politics classrooms. The Bourne Building also houses the school's largest hall (the Bourne Hall) and the library.

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

Boys playing cricket in front of Aldenham House

Boys playing cricket in front of Aldenham House

Haberdashers' is located on the grounds of Aldenham House, a 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 the Quad. The majority of the school's facilities are named after worthy persons in the school's history.

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 modern building which houses indoor courts and changing rooms. Next to it are two large astro-turfs. 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 school recently refurbished their library, which now has a variety of open and screened seating areas, as well as desktop and laptop computers. The library serves as the principal work area for pupil and is supervised by a team of qualified librarians. At the beginning of 2014, the school began construction on a new multipurpose sports complex which, which has now been built. Formally called the Medburn Centre, the complex boasts a 24.96m swimming pool, as well as Joe's Café in the lobby area.

The school remains fairly religious; it has a chaplain who takes assemblies as well as teaches. Assemblies are regular and are mandatory, there is a theme each term, the recent theme was British values. The school hosts an annual carol service at St Alban's Cathedral nearby, that takes place at the end of the autumn term and is led by the chaplain.


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

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:


Older averages (2001–2006) placed the school at nineteenth in the country.[2]

The school was ranked at 15 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. [2] [29] 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 use 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 University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. However, some of those that teach in the Modern Foreign Languages department are actually natives or are trilingual with a small number quadrilingual.


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

  • 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.

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

Several shields are awarded at the end of the academic year for competitions between the houses.[13] 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, Inter-House MasterChef and Inter-House Target Shooting. Each boy is generally expected to represent their house in at least one activity, whilst many represent their house in several activities.

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

  • Andrews (Blue)

  • Davids (Yellow)

  • Georges (Red)

  • Patricks (Green)

The house names represent the patron saints of the four states of the United Kingdom Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. These house colours are shown on bands on the students' ties.


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 their 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 for and attend the rugby tour of the year)

  • Aske tie (awarded to boys who have made an outstanding all-round contribution to the school)

  • Senior Honours Tie

  • Prefects' tie (awarded to 50 boys selected as school prefects in their U6th year)


The total cost of attending the Main School (Years 7-13) in 2016-17 is £129,192.00 (£6,152.00 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', whilst two out of the four teams in the Oxford Union finals were from the school. 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.

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. Five boys were awarded 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 is attended by over 450 delegates. The first HABSMUN was held 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).[17] 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.[18] 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 to benefit other people both within and outside the school.

Other co-curricular activities

Sport is a major activity at the school, with a plethora of different teams and a wide array of sports, including cricket, rugby, fencing and squash. A new multimillion pound sports complex was completed in January 2016, named the Medburn Centre.[19] Participation in sports is compulsory, and in 2014 the school head refused a request from the parent of a 9-year-old pianist taking part in the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest, that he be excused rugby lessons. The head wrote that "it is not for you to determine or pick and choose which lessons he attends... we teach boys the acquisition of skill and every subject is as important as every other."[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 members of the school are also invited to visit Haberdashers' Hall in the City of London.

Coat of arms

School coat of arms

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

  • Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls was established in Hoxton. It moved to Acton in 1898 and in 1974, to its current location next to the Boys' School in Elstree.

  • Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College, formerly Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' & Girls' schools, based in New Cross, SE London.

  • 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.

  • Haberdashers' Aske's Crayford Academy, formerly Barnes Cray Primary School, based in Crayford, SE London.

School magazines

Skylark and Skylight are the official school magazines. Both are edited by boys at the school.

Other school magazines, including 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.

Recent headmasters

  • 1946-1973: Tom W. Taylor, MA, PhD (Cantab), BD (Lond) (AKA Spud)

  • 1973-1987: Bruce H. McGowan, MA (Cantab)

  • 1987-1996: A. Keith Dawson, MA, DipEd (Oxon)

  • 1996-2001: Jeremy W. R. Goulding, MA (Oxon)

  • 2002-2018: Peter B. Hamilton, MA (Oxon)

  • 2018- : Gus R.Lock, MA (Oxon)

Notable former pupils

See List of Old Haberdashers

Notable teachers

  • Julian Hails, former footballer, teaches Mathematics

  • John Knight, former footballer, taught Chemistry

  • Clive Rees (born 1951), former rugby player, taught PE

  • Doug Yeabsley, former cricketer and rugby player, taught Chemistry

Media references

  • The recent Alan Bennett stage-play and film The History Boys mentions Haberdashers' (though omitting the s') in its script as a school of academic excellence. In addition, the production notes were supplied by 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).

  • In 2019, in the Woolwich Crown Court, one of the schools' accountants, Sam Kayode, was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing from, and for defrauding, the Haberdashers' Aske's Schools the amount of £4.1 million, of which only £800,000 was recovered.[22]


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