Allan Ford and his Wall of Death
Allan Ford and his Wall of Death
The Spotlight feature is here to highlight members of the Society. This time Allan Ford, the Society’s Chairman and co-founder tells us about himself and his Wall of Death. Allan has always had a love of motorbikes, and after leaving school at 15 he worked as a toolmaker and did an apprenticeship. He worked in a motorcycle shop repairing bikes and building new ones. He road raced the bikes he built himself all over the country and although he enjoyed this it was terribly expensive.

His introduction to the Wall Of Death started when in 1969 he visited the Epson fair when it was in the Dip. He saw Tommy Messham's Wall of Death there remembering it from a similar experience at Southend when he was a kid on a Sunday school trip.

He got talking to Tommy about bikes and asked to have a go on the Wall. Tommy said “if you bring your own bike lad you can have a go”. Allan takes up the story, “The next day I took my BSA bantam up there, which I used to travel to work on, I took silencer off and was introduced as the extra attraction of a local lad having a go. I received no instruction and almost got onto the Wall but fell off. By the end of the week I could just about get onto the wall but had lots of bruises to show for it. I was about 27 years old at this point. I went away and built a special bike to master the Wall which was around a 1949 Bantam with a bigger D7 engine.

Whenever Tommy was in the South I would follow him around with my bike. That winter I re-built a couple of Indian bikes for him (Wall of Death riders prefer Indian bikes because of their left-handed throttle control) and next spring I joined him full-time. I loved it!

Finally he pulled in from travelling for good and took the wall off the road. It ended up in Dreamland (not far from where my parents lived) and I ran it there until it got sold (ending up going to Australia). At that point unfortunately, there was no wall operating in the UK. In 1976, out of the blue I had a phone call from someone asking if I’d go to Iran to ride a Wall. Within a week I was flying there without knowing if there was a Wall or where I was going. When I got to Mashhad, thankfully there was a Wall, but no riders to ride it. I rode in Iran for 3 months, but there were no good bikes, and as the Shah was about to be deposed I decided to come back home.

When I returned, I started up a business and had a workshop repairing lawnmowers and agricultural machinery but I missed the travelling life. Then a wall came up for sale out of Skegness but it was in a terrible state. I bought it and spent a year doing it up. In 1987 I took it out and spent the next 15 years or so on the road.

I liked the travelling life, and loved the fairs. At its height I had four riders with me on the Wall. Now I’m not just interested in Walls but in the whole aspect of the fairground industry. I feel privileged and lucky to have seen the last of the great fairs that included the long lost traditional attractions such as Boxing Booths, Shuffle Bottoms, Wild West Shows, Knife Throwing, Tallest Man, Midgets, Freak Shows and Fat Ladies.

Showman call themselves showman, but it’s a shame that the shows have gone and a great shame that this historic heritage has disappeared, however I understand that we must move with the times, and that youngsters now want fast and fancy rides."
A.C.E.S Chairman and co-founder Allan Ford and his Wall of Death...