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The strange tale of 'I'm Ninety five'

Or: A search for the origins of a famous Regiment's march tune

For some time I have been thinking of putting this on the forum - not so much as a discussion topic but as a place to publicly share my research into a favourite tune of mine.
'I'm Ninety five" was the march or 'quickstep' of the Rifle Brigade. The Brigade came in to existence when all three battalions of the 95th were taken out of "The Line" in 1816.
The numerals therefore had obvious significance - but the tune is reputedly Victorian - so post period.  For those who do not know what it sounds like here is a link:

On the face of it a curious march for a 'light corps' to adopt - simply because the arrangement has no parts for Bugles and must be played by a military band.

In part one of my topic I will introduce you to Bandmaster William Miller aka 'Billy the Bugler'.

BTW Thanks to Forum General Townsend for the photo and following extract from the Rifle Brigade Chronicle 1891

William Miller was born in Northern Ireland in 1815 - son of a soldier in the 50th Foot who subsequently joined 1st Batt. Rifle Brigade in 1820. Thus young Billy grew up in the regiment and himself became a Bugler. He was just 4' 4" tall at the time.

So that's Bandmaster Miller and the first part of our story - but where did Rifleman Goodall get the song for his comic drag act?

Sorry but for the answer you will need to wait for the next thrilling episode ...........

OK - I have got a minute or two for another go:

A quick internet search reveals that the tune dubbed "Ninety five" is also known as "John of Paris"
Here is an extract from the excellent "Fiddlers Companion" website which is a great place for tracing the origins of old tunes:

"JOHN OF PARIS. AKA – “Jean de Paris.” AKA and see "Ninety‑Five." Scottish, English, Jig and Morris Dance Tune. G Major (Harding's, Kennedy, Raven, Sumner, Wade): A Major (Kerr). Standard tuning. AAB (Kerr): AABB (Hardings, Sumner): AA'BA' (Kennedy, Raven, Wade). “Jean de Paris” is the title of a French comic opera with music by François Adrien Boieldieu (1775-1834), first performed in Paris in 1812, and it is possible that this tune has some connection with the opera. The melody has been used for a single step dance in the North‑West England morris dance tradition where it is popular under the title “Ninety-Five.” Revealing that alternate title, this is sung by morris dancers:


The girls go by and they wink one eye,

It's will you marry me? No, not I;

I'm ninety-five, I'm ninety five,

And to stay single I'll contrive.


The tune is contained in the 19th century Joseph Kershaw Manuscript. Kershaw was a fiddle player who lived in the remote area of Slackcote, Saddleworth, North West England, who compiled his manuscript from 1820 onwards, according to Jamie Knowles. Source for notated version: the 1823-26 music mss of papermaker and musician Joshua Gibbons (1778-1871, of Tealby, near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire Wolds "

So a possible connection with a French comic opera in 1812!! Perhaps the tune is not Victorian after all?

And the tune is certainly in a collection dating from 1820. The Tealby 1823 version notation is the same melody as 'I'm Ninety five'

So it was a fiddle tune and a dance tune - and here it is as danced today :

So when Rifleman Goodall sang "I'm Ninety Five ' in 1842 dressed as an old lady, the tune, in the guise of 'John of Paris' had been known for over 20 years  - but someone had put new words to it :


The saga continued.   Of'Regimental marches.

"The Regimental Companion" Vol 1 1811 page 162 :

Conclusion of Field Day or Review - When preparing for the last general salute, the officers being in front of their several companies, the commanding officer will give the word march on which the music of each battalion play's it's regimental march and the line advances in slow time"

Although the idea of a regimental march was therfore not unknown in Georgian times it is not until much later that specific tunes were officially adopted :
' In the 1880s the War Office required that quick steps should be registered, and all Regiments were instructed to file their marches  at the War Office along with relevant historical data'  ( 'Music of the Redcoats' Lewis Winstock )
Regiments tended to go for popular folk melodies of the day, usually associated with their County affiliation - or jaunty Irish tunes reflecting the large number of recruits from the Land of Erin.
The Rifle Brigade applied for and were authorised to have "I'm Ninety Five".

So popular had the tune become however that several other regiments argued to have it as their march, not least the 95th Derbyshires who had indeed held the number 95  for much longer than the Rifles.

From the Website World Book of Military Bands :

"Up to 1863 the 43rd Regiment of Foot adopted it as a quickstep but in the same year changed to music from Conradin Kreutzer’s opera Das Nachtlager von Granada. The influenced may have come from the German Bandmaster and new words were added to make it A Rifleman Am I.

            The King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry adopted the march when the regiment was formed in1881. The predecessor the 53rd Regiment of Foot had adopted it earlier but in 1875 replaced it with The Captain with his Whiskers, a song for which the music has been lost but was composed by Hayness Bayly as a music hall comic song.

            The old 33rd Regiment of Foot prior to 1881 used the tune as a quick march. The change to The Wellesley may have been due to the fact that I’m Ninety-Five was to popular with other regiments; the 3rd Battalion The Wiltshire Militia played it in slower time rather than the traditional Rifle Brigade cadence; Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards) as a quick march for nearly half a century; the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (The Sherwood Foresters) and was used by the predecessors of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. The Green Howards use the march after their return form the Crimean war until 1868 when the present march was adopted - Bonnie English Rose. The 13th Hussars also adopted it after the Crimean War.

            In 1868 Major General Sir T. Gallwey was appointed Commandant if the Royal Engineers establishment which became the School of Military Engineering. This tune was being used at the time and he ordered the band committee to find a new quick march. The march was to be distinctive and acceptable to the Corps. The Corps finally adopted Wings as their march replacing I’m Ninety-Five.      

In Canada the 49th Regiment 'Hasting Rifles' amalgamated in 1920 with The 16th Prince Edward Regiment to form The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. Other units were added through additional amalgamations but the regiment retained this old Rifles march; the British Columbia Regiment used this march through their alliance with The Royal Green Jackets. The Regiment started when the 6th Regiment “Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles” formed from an artillery unit. In 1920 the 1st British Columbia Regiment “Duke of Connaught’s Own” were formed then ten years later adopted the present day title. Throughout all the changes the march was retained and a link to their rifles past maintained; the Elgin Regiment used the march since their predecessors were formed in 1866 as the First Volunteer Militia Rifle Company of St. Thomas. The regiment has been both infantry and armoured but have always retained the march as a link to their Rifle past. In 1997 the Regiment became 31 Combat Engineer Regiment retaining this march; the Royal Rifles of Canada used the march as did York Rangers Regiment prior to becoming The Queen’s York Rangers. Before amalgamation in 1936 to form the West Nova Scotia Regiment, the Annapolis Regiment of Nova Scotia, had used this march for many years.

The march is number 58 on the Kneller Hall March List of April 1st, 1883. The march consists of two repeated sections containing separate themes. It is interesting to note that it has numerous grace notes and in the B section a long held trill. The harmonic content demonstrates a dedication to very high quality arrangements. "

Note the trill Gower!

Bugler Edwards. If I ever catch you trilling I will beat you around the head with your trill until you don't have a trill left to be able to trill with. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!!

Ah well you can't please all the people all the time Serjeant.

Onwards and upwards and off at a slight tangent to touch on another tune but which has a connection to our story.

"It is claimed that another song, sung by both the 60th and the 95th at the end of the nineteenth century, originated in the Peninsula. Its hero was sometimes General Dundas and sometimes Colonel Coote Manningham. The song has some claims to antiquity. In 1892 William Miller, former Bandmaster of the 95th(sic) who has lived with the Regiment since 1820 when he was a child of five, said he knew To fight for England's glory (in this instance with Coote Manningham) when he was a boy. Private Phil Clay of the 95th recalled in 1890 that " several Waterloo men in our village......used to sing General Dundas ...... about 1850-56"

Winstock - 'Songs of the redcoats'  'Riflemen's song 33'

At this point I shamelessly pillage a previous topic "Colonel Coote Manningham he was the man" to attach a couple of images from the Rifle Brigade Chronicle 1895. Thanks Ben.

And here is what it sounds like:

It sounds a bit like 'Here we go round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning'. What is does not sound like is 'I'm Ninety five' but completely disregarding that - an attempt was made to cram the Coote Manningham words into the Ninety/ John of Paris melody.  Not surprisingly it didn't really work.
Ben Townsend

I'm enjoying this thread. You are connecting the dots in a way only a musically minded researcher could. How is progress with the brigade band looking for next year? Has Durrant offered to make a band sling for the drum yet?

I make no claims as to musicianship Ben - just a love of old regimental marches and dabbling with a Fife to play a passable version when possible.
The Brigade Band seems to be more likely to be just an annual Kelmarsh event - but next year at Waterloo 200 we may have a real Fife and Drums corps with us - fingers crossed!

The Tale of I'm Ninety Five will continue soon - with more drama as we track down the source of a melody which so many fine regiments tried to claim as their own - but lost to the boys in green who in their own unique style made those numerals famous.  Huzzah !

The French connection or rather - not.

In episode 2 we are told that the tune 'John of Paris' is aka Jean de Paris which does not strain even the typical Englishman's lack of foreign language skills to understand means the same thing - so :

"Jean de Paris” is the title of a French comic opera with music by François Adrien Boieldieu 1775-1834, first performed in Paris in 1812, and it is possible that this tune has some connection with the opera"

Boiedieu has been referred to as 'The French Mozart'. Jean of Paris was first staged at the Opera Comique Paris on 4th April 1812 - just a few months later the French invaded Russia.

I found a handwritten manuscript of the sheet music on line - must have been about a hundred pages with the various musical instruments and voice all broken up and shown line by line. With my very basic musical knowledge I trawled though it- searching for elements of the familiar  'I'm95/ John of Paris '6/8 melody............

I couldn't find it.

So failure - but then as we always do in times of trouble I turned to God - sorry I meant Google - and found:

So - the perfidious English staged a version of this French opera at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden London on 12th November 1814 ! Why not? Europe was at Peace and 'The Monster' was exiled forever to Elba....................
The music was by Henry R Bishop and written by Isaac Pocock.
Perhaps the tune I sought was in there?  But - then I over googled myself - and found that another English  version of the same French Opera - under its real name Jean de Paris, was showing at the same time just up the road at Drury Lane Theatre - with music composed by Charles Horn and written by Samuel Arnold.

How could that happen ? English sense of humour?  

Which version will have this damned tune?  If at all...............join me for the thrilling finale.

Will the real John of Paris stand up?

So two operas in London virtually next door to each and both based on Jean de Paris and both showing in November 1814  .

The one showing at the Drury Lane got rubbished by the critics -
New Monthly Magazine Vol 2 1814 p 443:
" If the success of this piece is adduced as an instance of public taste, we shall be under the necessity of wishing that our theatres were completely closed, and their companies disbanded to follow a better occupation"
I couldn't find the sheet music on line -  so moving swiftly on...

I then tried searching for 'John of Paris' in the indexes of the British Library and found:

"The whole of the music of John of Paris. A comic opera in two acts as performed at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, composed and partly selected from the original French Opera by Boiedieu, the poetry by I Pocock, composed and adapted for the English stage by Henry R Bishop. Composer and Director of music to the Theatre Royal Covent Garden  1814

Sir Henry Rowley Bishop is best known today for his composition "Home Sweet Home" aka "Theres no place like home" . He died in 1855 :

Looked promising so it was a trip to London to the British Library.

And there I leafed through the pages of music of John of Paris and finally in Act two there was  a section entitled " The melodramatic music - March and Pastoral Dance" :

And there it was - the familiar melody beloved by generations of green jacketed Riflemen - who had marched to it around the world under the name "I'm Ninety Five" and probably they had never heard of Henry Bishop nor his Pastoral dance.
The words of the ballad 'The Old maid of Ninety five' that Rifleman Goodall sang in the RB theatre in Malta in 1842 were however not in the script of the Opera at all.
The opening 8 bars were the same as expected but the second phrase was 20 bars long though the final 8 were the same as the first - making the second part of the music 12 bars long.  This fits entirely the song words - but when Bandmaster Miller adapted it for marching he made it into two 8 bar phrases  - so that's why when you try to sing it you end up with two lines of song left over !

But was the tune derived from the French Opera?  All is made clear in the "Works of Henry Bishop " see 34  :

So Bishop composed it ! There are the first  8 bars of the tune - but what is meant by 'has become immortal' ??  Was it so familiar a melody ? Because of the Rifle Brigade ? Or because of the song " The Old maid of Ninety Five" ???

On Amazon of all places I find this: "The favourite pastoral dance, John of Paris composed by H R Bishop, arranged as a rondo for the pianoforte etc by George Kiallmark 1st Jan 1816 ,  published by  Goulding, D'Allemaine , Potter &  Co." Already the tune was becoming popular. Could a Band of the 95th ever have played it?  Very unlikely but not completely impossible. Bands played such tunes into action :
Rolica 1808 " On reaching the great road at the spot where it passes under the aqueduct, the 29th Regiment was at that moment coming up with Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable George Blake at their head, and the band playing a country dance"
George Landmann 'Recollections of my military life' vol 2 p 187

So that's it - end of story  - but where did the words to 'I'm Ninety five' come from?  Certainly not the 95th ! Its about a little old lady.

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