Watched an excellent programme by Andrew Graham-Dixon about the artist Jan Vermeer on BBC-4 the other night, and learned about a huge explosion that had previously escaped my attention. In 1654, 30 tons of gunpowder were being stored in a former convent in the painter’s home town of Delft.
On the morning of October 12, the keeper of the magazine opened the store to check a sample of powder. For reasons we do not know, the whole thing blew up. Fortunately, many local people were away at a market in Schiedam and a fair in The Hague.
Even so more than 100 people were killed, and thousands injured. According to an account written 13 years later, the explosion happened with ‘such a horrible rush and force, that the arch of heaven seemed to crack and to burst, the whole earth to split, and hell to open its jaws.’
All that was left of the store was a crater fifteen feet deep, while buildings were flattened for ‘hundreds of feet’ around. More than 200 houses were destroyed, and 300 seriously damaged.