Three hundred and twenty-three years ago a long forgotten stonemason was putting the finishing touches on a small plaque which remains today marooned in Panyer Alley, a small footpath just off Newgate Street. It depicts a naked boy perched on a bread basket proffering what appears to be a bunch of grapes with a couplet that reads:
“When ye have sought the citty round yet still this is the highest ground. August 27, 1688”.
The plaque is placed just a stone’s throw from the London Stock Exchange an institution whose sole function is to make money, or “bread” in London parlance.
The apparent subject of the plaque. Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phase and Fable describes the term bread as:
‘Bread (and honey) ‘money’ in cockney rhyming slang. However, the internationally understood synonymity of ‘bread’ and ‘money’ probably does not derive from this rhyme, it is more likely to be of American origin.”
Even so its proximity near the heart of London’s Stock Exchange is curious, as is the inscription that does not appear to make sense in its current location, which is a decidedly short and not at the City’s highest point.
The Little Boy originally stood near its present site which in the 17th century was the centre of London’s bakeries. The alleyway is named after the boys who once sold their bread from baskets or panniers. A law passed in the 14th century prohibited bakers from selling their produce from their premises requiring that bread could only be sold in the King’s markets. To circumvent this law the bakers would employ boys selling bread from their ‘bread baskets’.
The plaque was originally let into a building on the original Panyer Alley a popular standing place for the boys selling their bread, and commemorates the Panyer Boy, an inn burnt down in the Great Fire of London. The stone, which is dated 1688, has been moved more than once. In 1892 the building on which the little boy was set was demolished and continuing in the bread/bankers tradition he was moved to Farrows Bank in Cheapside as its mascot. He didn’t prove to be a very lucky mascot as the bank folded in 1930. In 1964 he was moved again to his current location to watch over City types hurrying past with their American bagels and coffee.
In a further twist of bread, bankers and American idiom an article appeared in The Echo on 21st January 1893:
A remarkable conspiracy was detected by the authorities of the City a few days ago, when an attempt was made to steal the celebrated Panyer stone . . . It appears that a rich American bribed one of the workmen, engaged in pulling down the old warehouse in which the stone is fixed, asking him to exchange the old relic for a modern stone, and promising to pay £50 for the deception. The workman conveyed notice of this to the City authorities, and a guard has now been placed upon the original stone, which is a cherished heirloom of the City.