Robert Aske was the son of an affluent draper and was apprenticed to John Trott, a trading haberdasher (who was a dealer in raw silk) and who was an East India Company merchant. Aske became a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers in 1643 and was elected an Alderman of the City of London in 1666. He became Master of the Haberdashers' Company, but was removed from that position by James II in 1687 when the Catholic King lost faith in him as he was a fervent protestant.
Aske was a commercial City of London investor with mercantile interests trading mainly in silks, as his apprentice master had done, through the East India Company. In 1672 he also made an investment of £500 (c. £120K today) in the Royal African Company (RAC). At the time of his death, his estate included around £650 (c. £170K today) of RAC stock. This represents 1.3% of the total value of his bequeathed estate of £50K (£13M). The Company and its Schools are clear that the role of the Royal African Company in the trans-Atlantic slave trade was deplorable and sits in stark contrast with the values which inform the Company and its Schools today.
Aske married twice but had no children and left a large proportion of his estate (£32K (c. 8.3M today) to the Haberdashers’ Company for charitable purposes; this is the foundation of the Aske Charity which was first incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1690. In his will, he directed that £20K was to be used to buy land at Hoxton upon which was to be built a "hospital" (almshouses) for 20 poor members of the Company and a school for 20 sons of poor Freemen of the Company.
From a start point of a school with twenty poor boys and almshouses for twenty old Freemen of the Company, there are now fourteen schools which benefit from the property and assets of the Aske Charity. In South London, there are nine schools (four secondary and five primary) in the Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South. At Elstree, north of London, there are five schools including the Haberdashers’ Boys School and Haberdashers’ Girls School. In the academic year 2021/22, there are approximately 8,000 pupils enrolled in the Aske schools, with some 2,600 at Elstree and some 5,400 in South London.
Since the opening of the original school at Hoxton in 1693, it has been calculated that more than 100,000 pupils have received the benefit of an Aske sponsored education, with more than 66,000 of them being educated by the schools in the Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South.
Artist - Circle of John Riley (1646 - 1691).
This spirit of philanthropy continues at the Company today. Members regularly support the charitable endeavours of the Haberdashers’ Foundation in order that the Company increases the impact of its work with schools, churches and communities. If you would like the opportunity to be part of the Company’s philanthropy, the giving page is here. Thank you.