The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School is a large independent day school for boys aged 5-18. The institution owes its name to Robert Aske, a merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company, whose will bequeathed an endowment for the maintenance of retired members of his profession and for the education of their children. The School started life in Hoxton, then in the late 19th century moved to West Hampstead, where it remained until 1961. Dr Tom Taylor, the then headmaster, masterminded both its move to Elstree and its elevation into the front rank of independent day schools.
Hoxton, 1690 - 1898
The story of Haberdashers’ begins with Robert Aske, whose will set out to build a school to educate ‘Twenty poore Boyes, who shall be freemens Sonnes’. The hospital opened in 1690 in Hoxton.
The School began humbly, with the Schoolmaster instructed to teach ‘the Rudiments of Grammar, and give such moderate Correction as shall be agreeable to prudence’. A Writing Master was also employed to teach the boys ‘to write fair and all manner of needful Arithmetick’. Boys were not taught Latin or Greek.
Entry requirements were strict. The School would only admit a boy of proven poverty. Boys already had to be able to read, and were dismissed if they inherited £100 or more. Lying, swearing or being absent without leave were grounds for expulsion. Boys left the School at the age of 15.
Hampstead, 1898 - 1961
By the late 19th century it was clear that the Hoxton site was no longer suitable for the needs of the School. The neighbourhood had deteriorated, and only 17% of pupils lived locally. Classes were overcrowded, and many of the buildings were in dire need of repair.
The decision was therefore made to move out of the old buildings and construct newer, better facilities at Westbere Road, Hampstead. The new school was much enhanced, with new courses teaching Greek and boys permitted to stay until their 18th birthday. Academic standards improved greatly, with many boys going on to become architects, barristers, doctors and engineers.
Many boys were called up to fight in the First and Second World Wars. Of them, 107 died in the First and 87 in the Second. Their names are immortalised in plaques around the School.
Elstree, 1961 - Present
In 1949 the Ministry of Education issued a report on the Hampstead School. It concluded that, while standards were adequate, the school hall, gym, art room and library were too small and desperately needed improving.
The Governors took the advice to heart, and in 1959 purchased Aldenham House and 61 acres of land from the BBC. The move took part in the summer term of 1961 under the leadership of Headmaster Dr Tom Taylor, who employed staff, students and a fleet of removal vans to transfer everything to Elstree.
The new school was opened in October 1961 by the Lord Mayor of London. The School’s hard work paid off, with the next inspection report praising every aspect of the facilities and teaching staff.
Haberdashers’ now has the facilities you would expect of a school of its stature: a cutting-edge sports centre, swimming pool, gymnasium and school shop; dedicated ICT suites, a new Science and Geography Centre (the Aske Building); a fully equipped Art Studio and Design & Technology Centre; an Assembly Hall with stage and flytower, a Drama Studio, a Music School with concert hall, a multi-purpose Library, and dedicated classrooms for all subjects. Outside there are grass pitches for rugby, football and cricket (as well as two all weather pitches which become tennis courts and hockey pitches), a climbing wall and an assault course (which straddles the moat of a long-gone manor house). We like to think that we are a modern structure on traditional foundations. We have come a long way since the days of Robert Aske, but our dedication to education and nurturing excellence remains as strong as ever.