Wall of Death remembered

Southwick author Ann Wright explores her own Wall of Death heritage in her new book The Wall of Death: Todd and Soutter Families 1929-1960, available from Amazon.

Tuesday, 18th September 2018, 3:54 pm
Ann Wright
Ann Wright

As Ann explains, the book tells the story of two remarkable families, eventually united by Ann’s parents’ marriage in 1935.

“Twelve members of these families were Wall of Death riders and owners from 1929 to the 1960s, several of them among the first wall riders in the UK.

“George Todd was my father, Wyn Soutter was my mother. My father had three brothers, all Wall of Death riders, who all married Wall of Death riders. My mother had a sister a Wall of Death rider, who married two Wall of Death riders, and a brother also a Wall of Death rider. One of my Todd cousins also rode the Wall.”

Ann explains: “A Wall of Death is a 20-foot high wooden hollow cylinder. It used to be on fairgrounds but is nowadays found at biker events. The paying public view the show from platforms at the top of the wall. There are now five touring in this country. Motorcyclists ride round the 20-foot high wall, one, two, three or even four riders at a time. The centrifugal force stops them from falling off. Most of the riders also do tricks on the bikes, like one foot over the handlebars, two feet over the handlebars, standing up, standing up on the saddle, sitting sideways, sitting backwards, racing each other.

“The introduction of the Wall of Death into the UK in July 1929 caused a sensation and it became extremely popular with the public thereafter. The Todd and Soutter shows toured all over Britain and Europe, as well as Abyssinia and Persia, and were seen by British and foreign royalty, Hitler and Mussolini and thousands of the general public.

“They appeared at the 1930, 1952, and 1953 Munich Oktoberfest, the 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition and the 1951 Festival of Britain.

“Their feats and trick-riding were outstanding and included towing a roller skater on the wall, riding the wall with lions in a side car and the Race of Death. These spectacles were photographed and reported on throughout the period by local, national and international press. They were interviewed on radio, and films by Shell-Mex and British Pathe News were shown in cinemas and on BBC television.”

Ann was born into two Wall of Death families and has been involved in the Wall of Death since childhood.

She has a BA Open University, BA (Hons) University of Brighton and an MA University of Sussex, the latter two in design history.

Ann added: “The book is published by Janus. It is available from them: send your name, address, mention Wall of Death book and they will send a copy of the book with an invoice, which you pay them on receipt of the book.”