In 1199, the Abbot of St Albans obtained a Charter from King John to establish a market at Barnet. It was in this way that 'Barnet' became 'Chipping Barnet', 'Chipping' being derived from the Anglo Saxon word 'ceap' or 'cheap' - the sign of a place with a market.
The evidence for a church comes from the Manor Court records which show that a chapel was in existence in 1272, built to serve the needs of the people of the village, the market and those who passed through. We can assume that the building had been built around 1250. The first mention of a priest was in 1258, when it was noted that the 'Parson of Barnet' owned a copy of the works of the Latin poet, Ovid. At the time Chipping Barnet was chapel-of-ease to the much older parish church of St Mary the Virgin in East Barnet, built during the period 1080-1120. It was only in 1866 that the livings were separated by an Order in Council.
In the early 15th century with the town growing fast, the small church was inadequate and in the year 1415, the Abbot of St Albans granted permission to the Rector of East Barnet to enlarge the church of St John the Baptist. In about 1420, the church was rebuilt in the perpendicular style.
During the Reformation, in the year 1547 the Chantry Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Trinity was abolished. In 1552, major alterations were made in the church services, and whatever was not required for the new liturgy had to be sold. Statues were damaged or destroyed, carvings smashed, windows broken and valuables stolen. However, after the succession of Queen Mary, a Roman Catholic, the Latin Mass was once again used in the church.
Under Queen Elizabeth's reign, records show that there were three hundred communicants in Chipping Barnet. It is only from early in the 17th century that we find full records of baptisms, marriages and burials. By 1800, the Great North Road had become the major highway to the north, and Barnet provided a convenient stopping place after leaving London. In 1872, the distinguished Victorian architect William Butterfield reported on the condition of the church. The restorations he recommended were carried out in the years 1872 - 1875 and cost £15,000. The galleries were removed completely; the old churchyeard to the south was used for a new nave and tower and the old 1420 church incorporated into a double north aisle. The tomb and bones of Thomas Ravenscroft, a local benefactor who had died in 1630, were moved from the chancel of the old church to a new chapel built for the purpose. In May 1875, the church was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Rochester (in whose Diocese the parish then was) in the presence of a huge congregation.
During the mid-twentieth century, the roof at St John the Baptist was repaired, and Church House was restored. A fire in 1974 severely damaged the choir vestry, then under the tower, and threatened to destroy the whole building. It was put out just in time, and in the aftermath, ideas came forward for some of the changes which were put into effect in 1984. These included new glass doors as the main entrance under the tower, the creation of a new choir vestry and alterations to the organ.
In the final year of the twentieth century a Millenium Appeal was launched with a vision of preparing the building for the new millenium. The plan included a new lighting scheme, redecoration of the interior, new noticeboards, outside floodlighting and the employment of a church keeper who would be able to look after the building so that it could be open each day for visitors, thus making the building that has stood at the heart of Barnet for 750 years more accessible to the community it seeks to serve.
St John the Baptist is now one of the largest parish churches in the area, with a fine musical tradition and a varied pattern of worship and ministry. It is part of the Team Ministry of Chipping Barnet, which includes St Peter's Arkley, St Mark's Barnet Vale and St Stephen's Bells Hill. The church building is not a museum of the past, but a living church were people pray, worship and engage with their faith and with the joys and sorrows of their lives.