Meet Britain’s First Female Wall of Death Star Yvonne Stagg
Yvonne Stagg story is one of a woman motorcycle rider’s success story with an unfortunate tragic ending. She’s the first woman to own one of the very unique Wall of Death events. Her Wall of Death and motorcycle stunts entertained onlookers during a time when women were not found riding the challenging wooden-walled barrel. Her thrilling story whose final chapter began when drunk, drove her car into a railway bridge. Not long after she took an overdose ending her life. Her story is of a love of the ride and as one of England’s very first women of the Wall of Death.
It was during the 1960’s Yvonne Stagg owned her own Wall of Death and was the starring feature rider of the show. She became the celebrity rider of UK’s amusement park, Dreamland where the Wall of Death was homed. This thrilling motorcycle stunt show, the Wall of Death began in the US and was introduced to the UK in the 1920s by the showman George “Tornado” Smith.
What is the Wall of Death?
The Wall of Death is a hollow wooden drum, approximately 30ft in both diameter and height, which sees motorcyclists riding around its interior and performing stunts at speed, seemingly defying gravity- held in place by centrifugal force.
Yvonne originally began her wall of death career when one of these stuntmen invited her to take a spin, sitting on his handlebars, she jumped at the chance. From then on she used every spare moment between shifts to “ride the bars”. She begged the owner to teach her to pilot her own bike. Her life changed forever.
Wall of Death Purchase
It was during travelling performances in Germany where she met her husband, a fellow Wall rider, Gustav Kokos. Yvonne’s career was set up for adventure but the travelling Wall’s owner, Peter Catchpole. He was a well-known operator and skilful Wall of Death rider who ran out of money to pay the riders and the fairground folded. Back in the UK, she took a job riding Tornado Smith’s Wall at Southend’s Kursaal amusement park. When Smith retired in 1965 and put his Wall up for sale she bought it and renamed it “Yvonne Stagg’s Wall of Death”. In 1974 the Kursaal closed and Yvonne moved her Wall across the Thames estuary to Margate and a new home at Dreamland.
Yvonne’s performances were becoming more unreliable as she began drinking heavily to relieve the pressures of her lifestyle and rising debt problems. During 1975 winter, she left Gustav returning to Southend where seeking new adventures, started an affair with an Irishman Terence Biebuyck. The news reached her husband Gustav and when he found them, and confronted them, a drunken fight broke out and Gustav was stabbed to death. Biebuyck was given three years for manslaughter and Yvonne promised to wait for him.
Yvonne was now the key witness in the trial of her lover for murdering her husband caused her to dive further into alcoholism and a dependence on tranquillisers. She continued to perform at Dreamland during this time, frequently drunk. Her career took a further tragic turn when she drunkenly crashed her car one evening and broke both legs, fractured the base of her spine and was hit with a huge fine and a two-year ban from driving.
With her husband dead, her lover in prison a custody battle for her daughter and mounting debts, she could see no way out. She sold her Wall of Death where it’s been told was the final tipping point in her life. On 4 January 1977, Yvonne’s body was found in her home- undiscovered for several days and was slumped in an armchair surrounded by empty drug bottles, and her two Chihuahuas prowling around her.
Truly a tragic ending to this amazingly talented woman and motorcycling life.