Whilst waiting at the entrance of St Paul’s Underground station for Sue to finish whatever she was doing, I noticed an old stone tablet mounted in the wall of a nearby Cafe Nero. The bas relief seems to show a naked boy sitting on a basket.
After some web searching on the script:
When ye have sought
The Citty Round
Yet still this is
The Highest Ground
August 27 1688
I found a few bits and bobs of its history.
- The location is Panyer Alley, named after the original business of the area – making panniers or baskets for bread. Originally it was a narrow pathway between houses, connecting Paternoster Row with Newgate Street. Now it is just a path around the Underground entrance.
- The sculpture may have replaced an earlier example which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Also, some sources think the stone is marking or commemorating the Panyer Inn which had been in the area for at least two centuries before being lost to the fire.
- The child could be holding a bunch of grapes – the stonework is very worn and it is now difficult to tell.
- The claim to be the highest point in London is not true now (it’s Cornhill) and it is difficult to say whether it marked such a place back in 1688 due to the lack of information on its exact whereabouts. The height of London has changed over the centuries as new buildings and roads have been built on the rubble of old ones, leading to an increase of 10-20 feet in some places compared to Roman times.
- The stone has moved around over the centuries as the building hosting it has been demolished and replaced. In November 1892, during one such transition, newspapers reported that a police guard had to be put on the Panyer Boy after “a rich American” had tried to bribe a workman to let him take it away.
- The tablet was put in storage in 1940 to protect it from bomb damage and wasn’t restored to public view for 24 years (The Times, 31st October 1964)
- Hidden London
- Walking in London
- A Guide to the Alleys, Courts, Passages and Yards of Central London
- Nooks and Corners of Old London