A small and weathered relief of a boy perched on top of what appears to be a basket can be found mounted on the wall of a coffee shop just outside St Paul’s tube station. It is perhaps one of the more mysterious objects in the city of London, as no one can quite agree on its origins, or exactly what it is supposed to be depicting.
It is not known for what building the basket boy was originally commissioned, but the relief is known to have been moved from one edifice to another as each was demolished, which is how it ended up in its present location. It is also reckoned to have always been in the vicinity of what is now Panyer Alley, a street named after the boys who sold bread from pannier baskets.
It would make sense to conclude, then, that the so-called Panyer Boy is sitting on a bread basket. Or could it actually be a pile of ropes? Is it a bunch of grapes he is offering, or is he squashing them against foot? Then there is the question of the inscription: “When ye have sought the Citty round yet still this is the highest ground. August 27, 1688.” This seems to imply that the location of the carving was the highest point in the city, when at the date given, the highest point was actually some half mile away in Cornhill.
Without knowing the original intentions of the stonemason who made the relief, and with the image eroded by time, it is possible that the purpose of the bread basket boy might remain elusive forever.
Know Before You Go
Located on street level of Panyer Alley, adjacent to Caffe Nero, on the left of the top of the stairs when leaving St Paul's Tube Station.