|AdminHistory||John Gilpin (18th century) was featured as the subject in a well-known comic ballad of 1782 by William Cowper (1731-1800), entitled The Diverting History of John Gilpin. The tale was first told to Cowper, by Lady Austen, in an attempt to draw him from a bout of depression and it immediately grabbed his imagination. He set to work adapting the story to a standard ballad measure to be sung to the established tune of Chevy Chaise.|
The ballad concerns a draper called John Gilpin and his anniversary holiday, beset with misfortune from start to finish. Gilpin was said to be a wealthy draper from Cheapside in London, who owned land at Olney in Buckinghamshire, near where Cowper lived. It is likely that he was a Mr Beyer, a linen draper of the Cheapside corner of Paternoster Row. The poem tells how Gilpin and his wife and children became separated during a journey to the Bell Inn, Edmonton, after Gilpin loses control of his horse, and is carried ten miles further to the town of Ware.
The poem was first published in the Public Advertiser on 14th November 1782, and then published with The Task in 1785. The strength of the sales of the poem was assisted by illustrations that accompanied the text. The poem was republished in 1878, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott and printed by Edmund Evans.
Cowper viewed John Gilpin as a lesser work, written partially to answer critics who claimed he lacked a sense of humour. He also hoped to promote sales of his weightier poem "The Task" through publishing both in the same volume. In his final years, Cowper took an active dislike to the poem and would not have it read in his presence.
A number of sites commemorate the exploits of John Gilpin, most notably Gilpin's Gallop, a street in the village of Stanstead St Margarets. This was said to have been on the original route taken by the horse and his unfortunate rider.