After only being a NAS member for six months, Neil Cooper decided to dive into the unknown and attend the NAS annual conference. Here he tells his tale….

As one of the newer members of NAS (I only completed my Skills training in July 2019) I had a certain amount of trepidation about the 2019 Annual Conference. I had never attended a conference before, so a large part of hesitation was because of the unknown. This was not helped by the fact that, as a volunteer, I also wondered whether my knowledge would be sufficient to understand the speakers. Regardless, I decided to make the most of the new opportunity, and dive straight in by booking everything I could!

For me, the conference started on the Friday with a tour of Fort Cumberland, the current ‘home’ of NAS. Fort Cumberland was originally built between 1747 and 1785 as protection of the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth. It has gone through several re-armaments and one rebuilding since then, with Historic England taking guardianship of it in 1975. The tour was fascinating, and allowed us the opportunity to explore some of the ramparts, the old magazines and tunnels, and explained to us some of their roles and function. I also found out about some of the cannons that were used on the site, in particular, some of Moncrieff’s disappearing guns.

On the Saturday and Sunday was the conference itself, with a range of stands from different groups. These ranged from stands by MSDS Marine to the Maritime Archaeology Trust. First off however, was some free training provided by Charlotte (NAS Public Engagement Officer) who taught us how to take photos and videos using smart phones, suitable for putting on social media to help advertise what activities we do with NAS, and our own projects.

Course participants of the 'Introduction to Smart Phone Photography and Videography' course

Particular mention must go to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who I got to spend time with on Sunday after they ‘misplaced’ the key to their artefact cabinet and needed the services of someone with lockpicks! Thanks to the Guild of Knot Tyers who provided the lockpicks and then picked the lock.

My personal favourites, baring the NAS stand of course, were the displays of artefacts that are currently undergoing conservation on the stands for the work on HMS London and some of the work of Bournemouth University on HMS Invincible.

We had plenty of time to look around and chat with everyone in-between the talks, which covered a range of topics relating to the conference’s theme of fortifications and ordnance.

The presentations were given by a range of people, including experts in their field Ruth Brown "British Guns For Land And Sea, 1660-1670" and Kay Smith "Early Artillery And Nautical Archaeology" and archaeologists Daniel Pascoe "HMS Invincible: Enhancing Our Understanding Of The Georgian Navy’s Organisation Maintenance And Operation Of The Naval Gunnery System" and Sandra Henry "Above And Below The Water: What Our Ships And Forts Are Telling Us About Climate Change In Ireland".

I found that all of the talks were fascinating, regardless of my preconceived conceptions based on my personal interests.

All of the talks were extremely interesting, and I wish I could mention more of the work that was presented. For those with the time at least, some of the presentations have been recorded and uploaded onto the NAS Facebook Page.

Towards the end of the conference was the awards ceremony. Southend Sub-Aqua Club were the winners of the Adopt-A-Wreck Award, with their work No Roses on a Sailors Grave project. Three people were welcomed to the NAS fellowship (I am told that a ring is optional); Jane Maddocks, Chris Underwood and John Cooper.

(From left to right - Winners of the Adopt a Wreck Award; Alison Mayor and Martin Davies from Southsea BSAC, and newly appointed NAS Fellows Jane Maddocks and John Cooper)

Mention must also be given to Huw Roberts, who, since starting his NAS training in June 2019, has now achieved both his Foundation in Maritime Archaeology as well as his Certificate in Maritime Archaeology. I would like to point out again to Education Officer Peta Knott that I only need another 3.5 credits to receive my Certificate!

For a few of us, the conference did not end on the Sunday. Some of us went for some guided tours of both Fort Nelson, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Explosion Museum.

Fort Nelson is one of the five forts that were built to protect Portsmouth Dockyards. More recently, it has become part of the Royal Armouries, and is used to display different guns from around the last five hundred years, as well as the defences of the fort itself.

The Explosion Museum’s purpose is to display some of the weapons used by the Royal Navy. These include cannons, mines, anti-submarine weaponry, torpedoes and missiles. We also had a brief look through some of the behind-the-scenes stores to see items which aren’t currently out for public viewing. This included some very rare midget submarines and a lot of canoes.

Overall, the conference was fantastic, not just for the learning opportunities, but for the chance to meet like-minded people who, whether they were doctors, professors, trained archaeologists or volunteers, had a burning passion for the sea, and what lies underneath its waters.

To learn more about NAS Conferences past and future, click here.

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