Where Only the Napalm Is Real


The petrol bomb pictured above exploded on the corner of Vickers Way, in the UK town of Gravesend, Kent, not too far from a pizza place, a bank, a gym, and other stores and amenities you’d see in an urban area. Police were on the scene nearly immediately, as seen, to put out the fire and keep the peace. No civilians were hurt.

That last, part, though, was a given. That’s because no one lives on Vickers Way, nor, for that matter, on any of its neighboring streets. In fact, Vickers Way doesn’t really exist. Really, just ask Google Maps, and you’ll see this:


And yet, that picture above is clear — police officers, a fire burning in the street, and a sign on the building that clearly readers “Vickers Way.” That’s because it’s not a real street. The building is, barely, a real building. The fire is real, but wasn’t a surprise. The police? Rest assured, they’re real police officers — they’re just responding to a fake emergency. They’re working at something called “Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre.” It’s a fake town — lots of streets, some buildings (and some facades), but no people. And as seen from the aerial shot, below, it’s massive.


The Centre, which opened in 2003, exists for one reason: to give police a place to train. Crowd control drills, anti-riot training, even some live-fire practice runs take place in the facility. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the Centre is just a Hollywood-esque sound stage. It’s fully stocked for all sorts of police drills. As Wired explains, “in addition to the false storefronts, pubs, and well-tended shrubbery are a life-size segment of an aircraft and underground subways, for more scenario-specific exercises. The crowd control and weapons training facility also has a full stable of horses and police cruisers.” The only thing it doesn’t have is civilians — it’s better to practice without them around, as this way, no one gets hurt.

The Centre is often referred to as a “secret” but that doesn’t seem true any longer, if ever. It is actually listed on Google Maps (just not at the Vickers Way address), and as Mental Floss noted, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police gave a press conference to announce its opening more than a decade ago. That said, you probably can’t visit; access to the facility during drills is restricted, of course.

There are, however, lots of pictures of it. In 2013, a photographer named James Rawling was given permission to document how the police used the Centre. You can see that gallery (from which the picture at the top comes) here.

Bonus fact: On Christmas Eve, 1826, an unlikely place was the scene of a riot. Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point had smuggled whiskey into the northern barracks and the resulting party got well out of control. The event, now known as the Eggnog Riot, involved as many as a third of the cadets and led to the court martial of approximately 20 of the students. Among those involved in the incident were Jefferson Davis (who wasn’t court-martialed), who would later become the President of the Confederacy; John Archibald Campbell , who avoided expulsion and would later serve on the Supreme Court; and Benjamin G. Humphreys , who was expelled, yet still later became the governor of Mississippi.

From the Archives: Reverse Cartography: The town that only existed on maps, until it became real, only to then become neither.

Related: “Police Kung Fu: The Personal Combat Handbook of the Taiwan National Police.” Only 3.8 stars on only five reviews, but seems too good to pass up.