High Barnet is known for its market, which has existed in various forms and at various locations since at least the 12th century. There may well have been a livestock market at High Barnet before the granting of the charter by King John in August 1199. The old market was originally located where Wood Street divides from the High Street, and was held on Mondays in 1588, and on Wednesdays by the 18th century.
By the late Tudor period Barnet's market controlled the sale of nearly all of London's meat. Butchers from London would come up to the town on a Monday to purchase cattle. The butchers would not take the animals back to London, but would keep them on farms nearby, and have them taken into town as and when they needed them. By the end of the 17th century the market had lost much of its original importance, with other markets, particularly Smithfield in London itself, and Hog Market, Finchley, supplying butchers.
The market was described as "insignificant" in the 1830s when the market was becoming an obstruction to the coaches making their way north (the bottleneck by the Church of St John's was known locally as "the squeeze"). In 1851 the market was moved to New Road but closed sometime between 1855 and 1866, but was re-established in 1869 near the Green Man inn by William Kemp.
From the middle of the 19th century a more general market, known as the Poor Man's Market, existed at Mary Payne's Place a little north of present Bath Place. Poor Man's Market closed during the 1950s, and the last cattle auction in the main market was August 1959, and the market became more general in character.
Barnet Fair, started in 1588, is a horse and pleasure fair. At one time cattle were also sold, which in the 1850s were said to be driven "principally from Scotland". At one time the fair was held in early April and September, but is now only held on the first Monday in September. In the 1880s it was said that 40,000 cows were bought and sold.
The fair attracted many travellers and visitors from London, and has passed into London rhyming slang as Barnet Fair, meaning "hair". Horse races and boxing were part of the fair's attractions until the railway station was built on the field where the racetrack had been. By the 1920s the decline in horse transport resulted in the decline in Barnet Fair's importance.
Barnet Fair was also famous for sports. Horse races and boxing were part of the fair's attractions. In 1787 for example the Prince of Wales was one of the many thousands of spectators who came to watch the horse racing, and the Jewish boxer Mendoza beat Martins, the Bath Butcher, in the ring. These sporting events were held on a field where the station is today, and when the railway station was built, serious horse racing finished.