Barnet was the only bit of Hertfordshire that ended up in Greater London.
Actually, one part of Barnet was already in Middlesex anyway, and Hertfordshire got Potters Bar in exchange for the rest – no disrespect to Potters Bar, but we reckon London got the better end of that deal.
From its name, Barnet must originally have been a woodland area cleared by burning, although there are other theories too. Barnet’s location on the Great North Road (the A1, as it’s now known, although this bit, confusingly, is the A1000) made it a handy staging post for coaches on their way up north.
The Battle of Barnet, fought on Hadley Green in 1471, was one of the most important clashes in the brutal Wars of the Roses. It resulted in a major triumph for the Yorkist king Edward IV against his former ally and “kingmaker” the Earl of Warwick, who died in the fighting. To ensure his place on the throne, Edward then bumped off his nominal rival, the timid and fragile Lancastrian ex-ruler Henry VI – Edward had previously allowed Henry to live, thinking him no threat until Warwick tried to restore him as a puppet king. An obelisk in Monken Hadley (also called the High Stone) was erected in 1740 to commemorate the battle.
Barnet’s famous fair, established in 1588, started off as a twice-yearly horse fair. Pioneering filmmakers Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres (who was a local resident) shot a silent film there in 1896, and YouTube has footage from the fair at various times since then. Folk band Steeleye Span even recorded a song about it. Now held just once a year, Barnet Fair no longer has much in the way of horse-related activities, but it does have a few stalls where you can comb it for a bargain.
It was at Barnet Fair in 1787, in an open-air match held for royalty (probably the Prince of Wales, later George IV) that the Jewish Eastender Daniel Mendoza beat the “Bath Butcher” Sam Martin to establish himself as the leading prizefighter of his day. Mendoza earned £500 from the fight, which he used to open a boxing school in the City.
The central part of Barnet is called High Barnet, because its 130m elevation makes it a high point in the local terrain. It’s alternatively known as Chipping Barnet, which is nothing to with the road surface, but means that it has a market. Indeed it’s had one since 1199, when King John gave it a charter. East Barnet had its own separate district council, which included New Barnet back in the nineteen-teens when it really was new. Friern Barnet, across the county line in Middlesex, also had its own local authority. “Friern” means “of the brothers”, the brothers in question being the warrior-monk Crusader order the Knights Hospitaller, who once had a base here.
As a parish, what we now call East Barnet is actually the oldest of the Barnets. Its Church of St Mary the Virgin dates back to 1080, and although it’s been rebuilt and expanded over the years, part of its north wall is still from that original Norman church. Barnet Church, aka Chipping Barnet’s Church of St John the Baptist, is a youngster by comparison, having been built around the middle of the thirteenth century. Even then it wasn’t a fully-fledged parish church until 1866, when Chipping Barnet finally became its own parish.
In 1965, with the creation of Greater London, the assorted Barnets (Chipping, East and Friern) were finally amalgamated, together with Hendon and Finchley, to make the Borough of Barnet that we know today.