The Tree of Health and Happiness; The Tree of Misery and Death

The Temperance Movement was a popular social movement during the nineteenth century which criticised excessive alcohol consumption and advocated abstinence. The early movement had arisen from the problems caused by the popularity of cheap spirits and gin houses, but during the 1800s when safer alternatives to beer became cheaper and more readily available emphasis turned to teetotalism and tea and cocoa rooms began to appear in our towns.

We have two wonderful examples of temperance posters created in Rhosymedre, near Ruabon around 1880, which were deposited during the 1980s (DD/DM/608). The posters are hand coloured and include a pro-temperance illustration of a tree entitled “The Tree of Health and Happiness” and anti-alcoholism illustration of a tree entitled “The Tree of Misery and Death”. They both depict a group of people standing beneath a tree, and making appropriate comments on the benefits of sobriety and the perils of inebriation respectively. The trunk and branches of each tree are also labelled with appropriate sentiments which make interesting and quite amusing reading for modern eyes.

Unfortunately the fragile condition of the posters meant that they were unfit for the public to view or handle. In the past they had been folded into eighths and these folds then opened into splits. The posters had been previously framed and resin staining had leached into them and they were heavily discoloured.

However the most serious problem was that during the last few decades the posters had been heavily repaired with sellotape or similar, and strips of this adhesive tape covered most of the rear surface of each. The tape had begun to oxidise, discolour and lose flexibility so it was no longer possible to unfold the posters and or flatten them.

The conservation work

The posters were in desperate need of conservation work and were sent to an external conservator for treatment. First the printing inks were tested for stability in acetone then the adhesive tape and as much as the adhesive as possible was removed with local then overall applications of acetone.

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Discolouration was reduced by pre-wetting the fragmented paper with an ethanol/water mix then washing in ordinary water. This was continued until no further discolouration came out. Tests were carried out with low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide solution on those areas still heavily discoloured but to little effect.

The posters were pieced back together on a light box using Japanese tissue and wheatstarch paste then each lined onto a sheet of Japanese mulberry paper with wheatstarch paste and stretched flat. Missing areas were filled with a rag paper applied with wheatstarch paste then these and any visible repairs were toned with watercolour.

These wonderful posters are now available to view at Denbighshire Archives in Ruthin.


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2 Responses to “The Tree of Health and Happiness; The Tree of Misery and Death”

  1. Judith White Says:

    My granny Elsie Wilson who was born in Rhosymedre and teetotal all her life 1900-1980 had a certificate with this on that she received when she signed the pledge

  2. Sarah Goodchild Says:

    I have one of these posters. the tree of misery and death. I think it is original fragile but whole inan old frame.

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