The Story Of The Iconic JCB Digger Sculpture

Outside JCB’s headquarters in Rocester, near Uttoxeter, sits an eye-catching mechanical sculpture which looks as if it might have escaped from the set of a sci-fi horror flick. Titled The Fosser, which loosely translates from the Latin word for ‘digger’, the metal structure has become a landmark of the Staffordshire countryside.

The Fosser was commissioned by JCB chairman Anthony Bamford, and was designed and built in 1979 by the Polish-born metalwork sculptor Walenty Pytel. It is constructed entirely of JCB parts welded together, and stands 45ft high and weighs 36 tonnes. At the time of its creation, it was the largest steel structure in Europe.

The awesome mechanical spider, with its arms (or legs?) grasping at the air, was designed to encapsulate the spirit of the mighty digger company. JCB originated from a one-man garage in Uttoxeter in 1945, to become a major global brand that still retains a strong family ethos which is uncommon in multi-national businesses today.

No less extraordinary is the story of the internationally acclaimed sculptor Walenty Pytel. He was born in Poland during the Second World War, and abducted by the Nazis as a baby, to be given to a Gestapo officer and his wife, who were childless. Pytel’s mother Jadwiga was imprisoned, but managed to escape, and snatched her baby from the couple’s garden.

They then fled across a war-torn Europe, eventually ending up as refugees in England in 1945 when Walenty was five years old. His brave mother was traumatised by the atrocities she had witnessed during the war, but Walenty thrived, with his precocious talent for art and design recognised with a place at Hereford Art College when he was 15.

The writer Catherine A Gilling is working on the only authorised biography of the sculptor, who is now 80, and suffers from memory loss caused by a fall from the roof of his house in 2007. He suffered a stroke, and had to learn to walk and talk again, but still continues to work as a sculptor, Staffordshire Live reports.

The new book will be accompanied by photographs by Jason Hodges. Gilling comments: “Walenty’s early history was pieced together by surviving relatives on his mother’s side who now live in Russia and consider themselves to be fully Russian.”

The author added: “his good friends of many decades have no idea of his challenging start in life or even of his darker moods, recognising him only as the outgoing, spirited eccentric artist that they know and love.”

Pytel has produced many prestigious public works of art during his career, including the Silver Jubilee Fountain Sculpture, which is outside the Houses of Parliament. Among his other famous works is Take Off, Three Egrets in Flight, which is outside Birmingham Airport. His work is also displayed around the globe, from Europe to Japan.

Among his most notable work is The Colin Grazier Memorial in Tamworth. It is dedicated to Able Seaman Colin Grazier and Lieutenant Tony Fasson, who died while retrieving the crucial Enigma codebooks from a sinking German U-boat during WW2, and had previously been given little recognition for their sacrifice.

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