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Age is no bar, and neither is gender – celebrating International Women’s Day

08 March 2022

For International Women’s Day we’re shining a light on one of the incredible divers from the Diving Deep HMS Invincible project.

Meet Jane Maddocks, a 73 year old archaeologist and diver who investigates underwater museums and loves nothing more than swimming over the seabed looking for artefacts from the 1700s.  Jane has dived on the Mary Rose and HMS Invincible 1744 discovering and recording  the sunken treasures, hidden secrets and the lives preserved under the sea.

Not all archaeologists extract their findings from dry land with picks and shovels, some love nothing more than donning SCUBA and taking part in underwater exploration.  Age is no bar, and neither is gender.

Jane says: “We have so many divers in this country who are pioneering women – still able to dive well into their 50s, 60s and beyond. Age is irrelevant to me; as long as I have the desire to know what’s at the bottom of the sea and as long as I can handle my kit, I will continue to dive.”

Jane is aware of the tendency to ‘old’ women

She says: “I remember the initial fight for female equal pay but the thing I’m finding now is, that we need to be aware of being ‘olded’.  Being told that a little light gardening and gentle walking will provide sufficient excitement in life is not really a good thing for the many lively, energetic, intelligent women who still do scientific diving and write academic papers. One of the things I’ve become more and more aware of is that there are some cracking older divers still doing things at a high level today.”

“Look as  someone like Dr Margaret Rule CBE (as a land archaeologist, she learned to dive so she could take part in the excavation of the Mary Rose), she was no spring chicken but she wanted to have a look at what was going on.  Dr Alex Hildrid who has celebrated 40 years at the Mary Rose Trust;  she’s still diving and she’s an exemplary diver.  As we get older it may be the case that we dive slightly differently because the kit is heavy, and I have to ask people to lift things on to the boat for me some times, but there are some cracking older divers our there whose stories are really valid.”

Fitness is required by Jane explains that “normal diving fitness” is “nothing extraordinary” she says : “as long as you can go for a swim with your kit and have a lovely time without coming up to the surface feeling exhausted!”

Jane as a pioneer

Dan Pascoe a maritime archaeologist who conducted the excavation and post-excavation work on the 74-gun warship, the HMS Invincible, has dived with Jane for many years, he says: “Jane is an underwater explorer, a pioneering woman in the diving world who still is very much involved in challenging digs – she’s a fantastic role-model for so many divers.”

“She is an integral member of the team and is not just a great diver but she’s someone who enables the team to get the best out of the endeavour – she’s always a calm presence who brings her experience to bear as well as her ability to communicate so well with others, especially those new to diving.”

Jane was part of the volunteer team who dived on the Mary Rose.  She says: “The Mary Rose was completely extraordinary as a project, allowing volunteers to contribute to the excavation and the work that was being done.  One of the exciting things about it was, I wasn’t sure whether I would like it but within 20 seconds of going down the shot line, I was totally hooked.  For me, it was two fantastic weeks of volunteering, showing what recreational divers could achieve under the guidance of professionals.”

Volunteers have been integral to the recent Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 project and exhibition.  Jane says: “The volunteers have been involved in conserving the artefacts, researching objects, finding more of the story and even moving the exhibition from Portsmouth to Chatham. Volunteers attended courses on how to design museum displays that entrance and engage the public, wrote the information panels, and did training to observe visitor behaviour so that the best use could be made of the material we had.”

Volunteers come from all walks of life, not just archaeology, drawn in by their love of SCUBA and maritime history.

Jane sits on the National Diving Committee of the British Sub Aqua Club, and heads up projects where divers can dive with a purpose. She says: “People can get involved – it’s not just the realm of specialists, it’s our heritage, it’s not archaeologists heritage or government’s heritage.  It’s ours.  If you can dive, or want to dive you can get involved. ”

Jane on what it feels like to dive

“You start by jumping or rolling into the water, the sound changes so that you are hearing bubbles and feeling the seawater as it supports you. Vision is made possible through a faceplate of toughened glass, and the change in depth is perceived through feeling of pressure change in the ears and changing light levels. If you have to work hard you become very conscious of breathing. You also feel weightless as you achieve neutral buoyancy. There is also a continual low level awareness of your equipment and how it is functioning, for example checking time and depth. On the ascent it gets lighter on the way up and you may well be handling buoys and lines that give you a direct link to the surface.”

“The Diving Deep: HMS Invincible exhibition manages to communicate really well what it feels like to dive – visitors won’t get wet, but the view and soundscape is spot on!”

On Women of today

“The thing that concerns me is social media and it possibly restricting young people’s vision of what they might become – we should be saying ‘look girls you are the equal of men, you can do anything you like’. It seems to be however, that if you’re a girl now you have to wear the right clothes and make-up and I actually worry about that and I’m quite sad that there’s a norm they want to conform to.  I want a lot more celebration of females doing STEM subjects and female divers who are role models.  Young women can do anything they wish to do and their gender shouldn’t disbar them.”

On HMS Invincible – dives in the 1980s

“I asked Cdr John Bingeman, who was leading the expedition and collating all the material at the beginning, if I could dive and I spent a couple of weeks out there with him.  He was an absolute pioneer – it was the early 80s and he used a motorised fishing vessel with dredges and lifts, and we went down and drew the items we found. We were using dredges and working with the tide – there was a lot of seaweed in that area and the weed moved backwards and forwards as the tide came in and out.  We’d put the dredge between our knees, wiggle to move the material using the dredge but we were then swimming with our hands to get the seaweed out of the way.  You had to keep going – if you slowed down, you became a sort of floating head with seaweed on top!  It was exciting looking down into the trenches – you could see down into the trenches and see the timbers on either side and the material on the bottom (at that stage) and it was all new and surprising.  John is well into his 80s now but he dived on the most recent HMS Invincible dives 2017 – 2019 – which is pretty magnificent.”

What Jane saw in the 1980s on HMS Invincible: “a lot of it the ship appeared open in the 1980s with huge timers and a definite grey layer covering everything that, when you handled it, smelled of rotten eggs – not terribly appealing, but very very different!”

“The very first time I dived with Cdr Bingeman – I found trays of grenades packed 12 to a tray and underneath the tray were little flints so you could strike the fuse and it was all there.  I think that was the thing that excited me the most at the time.  The downside was that it was gun powder and very smelly after so much time underwater. On the last day of the drive I tried to get a taxi home and I had to put my jacket in the boot because the smell of rotten eggs was too much!”

“These items were so extraordinary, you’ve seen leather buckets etc., but I’d never seen those very early hand grenades and they appealed to me and made me laugh. The artefacts brought up then were taken to Dockyard Chatham and Portsmouth.”

“When we went out on the boat with Cdr Bingeman in the 1980s and to start doing the trenches, he would brief us, talk about the vessel and how important it had been and how much it had changed and influenced ship building subsequent to its capture from the French by the Brits (it became the blueprint for English war ships going forward and ships that went on to defeat the French) Cdr Bingeman was very keen that the future of the wreck and its history was secured.  The material he removed he put into the best possible conservation that he knew about.  A lot of my understanding to do with the wreck was my understanding from John Bingeman and his relationship with the ship.”

HMS Invincible dives 2017-2019 – filming of the artefacts rather than cataloguing

“The big difference between the 1980s and now, is the variety of techniques available to the professional team from the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST).  Airlifts still run from the surface of the vessel to remove the top material to expose the archaeology underneath and there are still dive plans on drawing boards when we went underwater but a really exciting development is photogrammetry which allows so much of the detail to be recorded very quickly and with the utmost accuracy.  It can take an age to draw accurately to scale underwater, but photogrammetry delivers excellent results over a large area.”

“Before the big excavation, we did do some early work with Dan Pascoe finding out what was still there on the wreck – laying lines, taking measurements, that sort of thing. When it came to the excavation it was very much a team of professional archaeologists who were doing the work because they had the funding to retrieve all the material from the wreck and that was important.  It’s very special material – if it had been left it would have dissipated into the sea, and so the level of work was totally professional.  I believe they let me dive it for Granny rights because I’d dived it before. Part of the justification for the funding there was outreach and I took part in that.”

Difference between the 1980s dives and today

“At the very beginning it was a group of volunteers happily doing the best job they could working in trenches with dredges, and then by the time we got to the big funded excavation it  became professional teams, with a barge on site, using all the new electronics to record the relationships – if you look at the two periods it show exactly what’s happened technologically since the early 1980s.”

“A few years back before the big push we noticed the shift of the sands which move across the whole site.  Once year we could see little of the wreck, but the following year the sand had moved so much that divers could swim under the hull without realising it!”

“It was fortuitous to get the money so that they could record, excavate and conserve – then after conserving artefacts  can be presented to the public.  This new exhibition has done a great job of showcasing the story of the dives as well as HMS Invincible itself.”

The new exhibition at Chatham is as much about marine archaeology as it is about HMS Invincible 1744.

“Something else that has changed enormously is what we wear.  In the 80s we wore neoprene wetsuits that allowed the water in to keep you warmish while you dived, now when we dive we are in dry suits that don’t let the water in at all, with lovely fluffy underwear – it feels like walking about as a teddy bear.”

Inspiring a new generation

Jane was initially inspired by Austrian husband and wife diving team Hans and Lottie Hass; naturalist and diving pioneers, and she’s very keen to inspire other people to take up volunteering diving positions in the future.

In terms of professional involvement: “Marine archaeology is a very small community, with few jobs – it’s a niche market. Learn to be a good diver, do an archaeology degree and be ready to jump at every possible opportunity to get involved. If the professional route does not appeal then do recreational courses and volunteer. Volunteers have a huge range of experience and abilities and have a lot to offer in the way we look at our maritime heritage.”

Underwater museums

Jane enjoys diving in the Indian Ocean, north and south Atlantic, the China seas and has plans for 2022 to dive in Canada to do “some serious wreck diving in Bell Island to see three Second World War wrecks, one at 30 metres that’s scraped by ice bergs in the winter, one at 40 metres and one at 50 metres – all sunk within hours of each other.”

“A really intriguing place, an underwater museum that has been preserved by Canada – protecting its maritime heritage, not excavated, there for people to swim around, look at and understand.  It’s a museum underwater, just like a museum you swim around and think ‘that’s an interesting place for that to be, look at the bow, look at the guns and understand it.”

“I saw a wreck just off the coast a few weeks ago, with two trains in kit form on a ship that had sunk.  They’re sitting on the bottom, people are diving and recording them and taking sufficient images to make 3D photogrammetric models.”

“Shipwrecks are important – they preserve material from the past, and looking at this material helps our generation to understand how people made a living, the technology employed in the past, social history, economy, ritual and religious behaviour as well as the material history and culture of the past.  They are not just lumps of damaged wood or metal, they are insights into things that were important to a group of people at a particular time.”

Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 is open at The Historic Dockyard Chatham until November 2022. Entry to the exhibition is included in a Dockyard ticket.

 

We caught up with Jane at during the official opening of the exhibition:

 

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