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Treacle Toffee

"Ye'll get sent tae the Mars!" was the traditional threat to any misbehaving Dundee laddie as the Flag's own Dundonians Jim Lynch and Marilyn Wright will readily confirm. No - they wouldn't be banished to the planet Mars but to the ship of that name which was moored on the River Tay for sixty years until 1929. Today the saying still looms in Dundee tradition as an example of a terrible fate, for TS Mars was a training ship for "bad boys". This came about after the Westminster Parliament in 1861 passed the Industrial Schools Act. A school registered under this Act could retain children until their schooling was completed and magistrates could send children who committed minor offences to such schools instead of prison. Industrial schools were set up in most major towns in Britain. Some were set up in old converted warships, provided by the government in suitable coastal waters. In Scotland there were training ships in the Forth and Clyde as well as TS Mars on the Tay. The Mars had been HMS Mars, an 80-gun battleship launched in 1840. Later converted to steam, she had served as a supply carrier during the Crimean War. 4,000 was spent converting her for her new role as a reformatory training school.
 
For sixty years the Mars was a familiar sight on the Tay and at times had as many as 400 boys between the ages of 12 and 16 on board. With reveille at 6am, life on the Mars was hard and disciplined but the boys did benefit from good schooling and training in seamanship and carpentry. The donation of a sea-going brig, the "Francis Mollison", by a Dundee textile baron, enabled the officers and instructors to give their charges the finest possible training in seamanship. Indeed, so good was the training that, in time, some of the officers and instructors were ex-Mars boys themselves, for example William "Mannie" Taylor, 3rd Officer, swimming instructor and boatsman from 1891 to 1928, and William Bowman, woodwork instructor. By the 1920's the number of boys on board had dropped to below 200 and no longer came only from Dundee and the East coast but from all over Scotland, and some even from London and the South coast of England. In 1929 the school was closed, 6,500 boys having passed through it in its sixty years and the Mars was towed away to end her life in a breaker's yard at Inverkeithing in Fife.
 
But during the sixty years training also included sport. Boxing was encouraged but swimming was, by far, the most important sport. All boys were taught to swim and row, amd training in life-saving was given. In 1879 the Mars boat made a vain attempt to rescue the victims of the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster. The ship had a brass band and a flute band, and good singers were encouraged to take part in concerts. In summer they even had a holiday - they were taken to Elie, in Fife, where they stayed in an old granary. The boys were kept busy as the instructors could always find plenty work to keep them occupied. On the last day of the holiday, the good folk of Elie provided a treat for the boys giving them lemonade, cakes and sweeties. The sting in the tail was a large dose of caster oil administered by the officers on the last night!
 
Bairns of all ages might not enjoy a dose of caster oil but this week's recipe for Treacle Toffee will, most certainly, appeal to all those with a sweet tooth.
 
Treacle Toffee
 
Ingredients : 1 lb ( 450 g ) soft brown sugar; 8 oz ( 225 g ) black treacle; 4 oz ( 110 g ) unsalted butter; 2 tbsp water; 1 tbsp white vinegar
 
Place the butter, water and vinegar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Add the sugar and treacle, allow to fully dissolve. Boil the mixture then remove from the heat. Pour into a well-oiled 7 inch sandwich tin. When the mixture has cooled, mark the surface into squares with a knife. When cold, break into squares, wrap in cellophane and store in an airtight container.

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