The Nonexistent Town of Argleton

Tuesday, 3rd November 2009 by

Nestled in the Lancashire countryside, just to the south of Ormskirk, is the small town of Argleton. Or so Google would have us believe.

Zooming in closer reveals that Argleton isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. In fact it looks suspiciously like a couple of fields.

Roy Bayfield of Ormskirk was so intrigued by the mystery that he walked to the centre of Argleton just to check that there was definitely nothing there. There really wasn’t.

So where has Argleton come from? Some of Aughton’s 8,300 residents believe that it’s the result of a simple mispronunciation, but conspiracists have suggested another theory.

The map data used here comes from Tele Atlas, and it has long been known that cartographers sometimes alter their maps as a way of protecting their intellectual copyrights. Usually this takes the form of Trap Streets (which are designed to “trap” people who steal the data, as they copy the unique mistakes along with everything else), however in this case, is it possible that Tele Atlas has invented an entire town?

In the past the inclusion of a fake town in a map would have likely caused no harm, but in the age of automatic content generation, Argleton was building up a fair bit of fake history.1 Simply by having been declared to exist, automatic listings were being generated for it, meaning that is someone were to look it up online, they would believe it to be a lively town with jobs, hotels and schools.

Of course one final possibility remains – that Argleton is simply a mistake. Consider the fact that just a few kilometres to the north, Google has quite brilliantly renamed a local cul-de-sac to Dummy 1325.

Thanks to Google Maps Mania for alerting us to this one, which was originally posted by Mike Nolan at the Edge Hill University.

  1. Before the story of Google’s sinister activities swamped the rankings that is.