Wall of Death

Photo: Wall of Death, Hull Fair, October 1996.
Wall of Death, Hull Fair, October 1996.

The Globe of Death comprises an enclosed mesh globe around which one or two performers ride around the side and almost vertically over the top on motorcycles.

No one knows who actually invented either show but evidence suggest that the wall existed in the United States of America in the early 1900s with reports having been made of bicycles being used as early as 1908. There is even a suggestion made before 1900 of using bicycles on a type of Wall of Death, not for entertainment but for exercise! The earliest reference of the Wall of Death is the United States in 1928, it having arrived from the United States via Europe. Ned Williams, in his history of Pat Collins, wrote that the 1920s fairground scene roared into the 1930s with the arrival of the Wall of Death.

From the 1930s until the early 1970s they enjoyed a period of immense popularity and all of the major fairs would have had at least one Wall of Death as part of the overall attractions. There is no evidence as to when the Globe of Death first appeared but it is generally thought to have been around the same time or possibly even slightly before the wall. Many different stunts were tried - it was quite common for a lion to be taken on the wall in a side car while bears and monkeys would also be featured. The Austin Seven motor car was also adapted for riding on the wall and specially made Go-Karts were, and indeed still are, used.

There are only three Walls of Death in the United Kingdom today, and these are travelled by Graham Crispey, Ken Fox and Allan Ford. A typical performance comprises four or five separate events including straight wall riding, dipping and diving, the rider coming within inches of the safety wire with the rear wheel, a demonstration of Go-Karting, a demonstration of trick riding, and finally the Hell Riders Race, with two or sometimes even three riders on the wall at the same time.

Neil Calladine