The day the world came to an end: The great Delft Thunderclap of 1654

View of Delft with the explosion of 1654 painted by Egbert van der Poel (©

This programme commemorates the 350th anniversary of one of the most bizarre events to take place in the 17th century. The day was October 12, 1654, a normal Monday morning in the Dutch city of Delft. Painters in their studios, people working with looms and in potteries, and a man called Cornelis Soetens walks down a few steps to take a small sample from a gunpowder store.

The Netherlands had never heard an explosion like it. 90,000 pounds of gunpowder went up in five almost simultaneous, thunderous blasts. It’s reported that it could be heard as far away as the island of Texel 150 kilometres away. At the time, it was dramatically claimed that 100,000 cannons pointed towards the city couldn’t have done more damage. A quarter of Delft was destroyed. At least 100 people were killed and thousands wounded. It became known as the Delft Thunderclap but, in an age of deep religious conviction, some believed that the very gates of hell had opened up and God’s wrath had rained down upon them, in what very well may have been the largest man-made blast the world had ever seen.

Producer: Chris Chambers

Broadcast: October 13, 2004