Artist Stephen Chaplin, 79, on chronicling Bromley through drawings and paintings from train stations and bus stops

PUBLISHED: 18:02 07 October 2013 | UPDATED: 18:10 07 October 2013

Bromley Artist Stephen Chaplin with views of Bromley Annerely and Chiselhurst

Bromley Artist Stephen Chaplin with views of Bromley Annerely and Chiselhurst


Three years ago, Stephen Chaplin set himself a tall order: capture Bromley.

Today, the fruits of his labour – among them concrete spheres, a giant ice cream cone and a lorry stuck on a hill – go on display at Bromley Museum.

He never really know what was going to end up in his sketchbook, but he knew what he wanted to avoid – the more traditional sights that had already been chronicled by other people.

So he hit upon an unusual method: visit every train station and every major bus stop in London’s largest borough, sit down on the nearest bench, and draw whatever was in front of him.

“This was a way of going over the borough without looking for the picturesque,” explained lifelong artist Stephen, 79.

“I don’t like just to get conventional, pretty things.”

The images of Bromley that Stephen Chaplin captured, half by accident, certainly aren’t conventional. The ice cream cone is in fact a sticker on a café window; seen through the glass from within, it looks like a lorry is about to drive into it.

But he thinks they capture something of Bromley’s essence.

“If you go to places that are given and draw what’s in front of you, you end up with a mish-mash variety of things that, in the end, represent the borough,” he reasoned.

From Scadbury Park to Eden Park, By Way of Downe and Penge

First location Stephen visited: Penge West, 2011

Last location Stephen visited: Scadbury Park (bus stop), 2013

A4 drawings in exhibition: 70

Paintings in exhibition: 48

Location: Bromley Museum, Orpington

Runs until: November 2013

“It’s not all important buildings and beautiful sights – it’s just where the trains and buses stop.”

Brought up in Orpington before securing a job at the University of Leeds in 1961, Stephen says there are few places in the country that he knows better.

But even he couldn’t find a bench outside every station and stop – so, by his own admission, he had to bend the rules once or twice.

“I cheated outside Bromley South Station because there were no seats – so I went and sat in a café on the far side,” he said.

“Bromley South was just being renovated. There’s a block of flats on the left hand side and a group of concrete spheres on the other side, so that was the main thing – four spheres and five windows.

“I realised I was doing a lot of things to do with numbers.

“In Orpington Station there’s a café. I looked out of the window and there was a large ice cream cone as a transfer on the window, and then a large refuse lorry came up and parked.

“The person behind the bar said it had never been there before.

“At Keston, a van came and took a wrong turning and got stick on the hill.

“That’s what’s exciting about it – you never know what’s going to happen.”

It’s not the first time Stephen’s found an unconventional way of portraying the region. He once drew one scene in every square of the Ordnance Survey’s national grid over Orpington.

Another time, he painted a series of Orpington buildings.

Stephen’s aim, he says, is to get people to take a fresh look at the spaces around them.

“It’s all to try to look at the place again – to say: ‘Don’t let’s lose it’,” he said.

“What an artist does is point out what’s there and say: ‘Isn’t this interesting?’”

The exhibition, From Scadbury Park to Eden Park, By Way of Downe and Penge, is on show at Bromley Museum, in Orpington’s Church Hill, from today until November 16. Check with the museum for opening times.

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