Wall of Death: History of sensational motorcycle act told by daughter of two of the riders

Stories behind the sensational motorcycle act the Wall of Death are told in a new book from the daughter of two of the riders. Ann Wright from Southwick has already written a book about her family, The Wall of Death Todd and Soutter Families 1929-1960s, and has now published a follow up, British Wall of Death 1929 -1939, co-written with Alan Mercer.

By Elaine Hammond
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 8:55 am
Updated Thursday, 4th August 2022, 8:55 am

Ann said: "Included in this book is a chapter on trick riding with a scoring system for the described tricks, edited by one of the world's best-ever trick riders, Danny Varanne. One chapter describes how to ride the Wall of Death and this is described by Jerry De Roye, Guinness World Record holder as the world's oldest rider. There are chapters on motorcycle clubs, the Indian motorcycle – the Indian was the favourite bike for riding the wall, money, publicity, accidents and deaths, animals on the wall, builders and owners of walls, transport and wagons, cars and bikes on the wall. The rear of the book is a register of every rider who rode in Great Britain in that first ten-year period."

In the summer of 1929, the English showman Charles More introduced this sensational motorcycle act to the British public and it could be seen all over the country, in fairgrounds and exhibition spaces. Initially, his riders were American and South African. The crowds would queue to see and hear a noisy performance of motorcycles within a wooden drum, riding vertically, with tiered viewing access for spectators. Without the use of wires or magnets, gravity would hold the riders, both male and female, as they sped around its steep, straight-up walls.

The act was copied by other showmen, with British riders learning the art, and within three years, the name Wall of Death would be used by everyone to describe the act. By 1933, practically every fairground in the country had received a visit from a Wall of Death. Some events even had more than one wall attending and an added attraction, would be the use of animals, sidecars and cars. This was the peak of its popularity, though it has continued through and beyond World War Two to the present day. Ann's new book covers the first ten years' history of the Wall of Death in Great Britain. British Wall of Death 1929-1939 is available only from One Tree Books, priced £10.99. Visit www.onetreebooks.com/51393-2 to order worldwide.

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