Chipping Barnet - also known as High Barnet - retains its character as a small market town. The focus for the centre is The Spires Shopping Centre with a range of national multiples and a supermarket plus its high street featuring a number of varied, independent outlets. There is also the Barnet Market, open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
In the 18th century Barnet boasted one of the largest markets in the county, and was well situated on the main road from London to the North.
After climbing the steep hill to High Barnet, a new name for the town by the 1590s, it was time to change the horses, and travellers relaxed at the many inns, which the town offered. People were also drawn to High Barnet for the therapeutic waters of the Physic Well during the 17th century, and again later in the early 19th.
The advent of the railways finished the coach trade by the 1840s, although one or two coaches continued to pass through the town into the 1890s, by then redundant but still romantic. Londoners seeking rural pleasures could reach and return from Barnet in a day, especially when High Barnet station opened in 1872. Many of the inns managed to stay in business until quite recently. Who can remember the White Horse (closed in 1971), the Salisbury Hotel (closed in 1969), the Wellington (closed 1964) and the Star (closed 1959)? At a pinch one or two may remember the Rising Sun (closed 1915).
The annual Barnet Fair, of rhyming slang fame, was very popular indeed: besides all the usual fair ground attractions and the races, drovers from as far away as Wales came to sell their ponies and cattle. To get a feel of how all these travellers and drovers might have relaxed we still have the Mitre pub, which retains much of the atmosphere promised by its timber frame fabric.
An old and still popular name, "Chipping" Barnet referred originally to the market, which ran from the 12th century until about the 1830s, when it was described by Pigot's Directory of Hertfordshire as having become insignificant. There was a new cattle market established by a William Kemp sometime around 1869, which continued with locally supplied stock until 1959, which has become an ordinary stall market since then.
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, family businesses, such as Pulhams the butchers and AJ Wills, supplied Barnet townsfolk and local farmers with their everyday needs. Most well known were the local printers J.Cowing, founded by John James Cowing in 1805. His sons produced the first Barnet Press in 1859, and it was very sad when, after more than 180 years serving the community, J. Cowing closed in 1986. Well known "high street" names like Boots, Woolworth, J Sainsbury, Freeman Hardy & Willis, and W H Smith, appear in 1920s and 1930s. Less familiar to younger readers but equally strong in their day were the Home and Colonial Stores. This was also the period when you could have coffee at the Continental Café, and then go and see a film at the Barnet Cinema in the High Street (not to be confused with the Odeon in Underhill). By the end of the 1970s the town was dealing with problems such as rising road traffic, a lack of parking, and competition from other shopping centres.
The Spires was part of the solution. Built in the late 1980s using the two spires from the previous Methodist Church, it incorporated a Waitrose supermarket together with 25 other contemporary shops.