John Gilpin (18th century) was a based on a real-life character whose exploits became legendary and featured in a well-known comic ballad of 1782 by William Cowper entitled The Diverting History of John Gilpin. Cowper had heard the story from a friend, Lady Austen.
He 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 actually 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.
There are a number of sites commemorating the exploits of John Gilpin, most notably Gilpin's Gallop, a street in the village of Stanstead St Margarets said to be on the original route taken by the horse's unfortunate pilot.
The poem in full at
- The poetical works of William Cowper, P 212,London: Frederick Warne and Co, 1892