Welcoming Syrian refugees and hidden treasures in a Scottish museum

2000 year old Syrian glass
2000 year old Syrian glass

By Russell Bruce

Paisley Museum’s Syrian glass collection to be displayed for the first time

Today marks five years since the first refugees from Syria arrived in Renfrewshire through the UK Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. To mark this occasion, Paisley Museum is releasing details of their Syrian glass collection dating back over 2,000 years which has never been displayed before.

In 2015, Renfrewshire was among the first Scottish councils to welcome Syrian refugees. Five years on, the Paisley Museum team is working closely with some of the Syrian’s who have settled in the town, providing a modern-day response to its previously unknown Syrian glass collection.

Jamal Horani and Khadeja Alhorani arrived in Paisley from Syria in 2018 and are part of the group who have been working with Paisley Museum on the Syrian glass objects.

Jamal said: “We were so happy and surprised to find these pieces made by our ancestors were here in Scotland. We used to collect these types of glass items at home back in Syria and it made me feel quite emotional and proud to find them here.”

Khadeja, added: “We want people to know that we have a great civilisation and that our glass making is known very well across the world. It’s not just the conflict – there are many other good things about our country.”

The potential significance of the glassware was only recently realised by Research Assistant Joel Fagan whilst moving objects into The Secret Collection, in preparation for the museum’s £42m redevelopment.

Damascus is known as the birthplace of glass making, with glassblowing still prevalent in the region today. Started over 4,000 years ago, by 200AD Syrian glass was traded throughout Europe. The glass in the Museum collection was either bequeathed or purchased from local dealers in Baalbek and Damascus in the early 1900s.

Future sessions will involve creating interpretation for the display in both Arabic and English, which will incorporate some of the group’s personal stories.

The display is part of the £42m redevelopment of the museum, which when it reopens, is anticipated to attract upwards of 125,000 visits each year and provide a £79m economic boost to the area over the next 30 years.

Joel Fagan, said. “The work we have done with the group will play a key part in bringing Paisley town’s globally-significant collections and history to life and ensuring all of Paisley’s voices are included in our interpretation. The Museum’s Syrian glass collection is truly significant and we are looking forward to displaying it for the first time when we open.”

Councillor Lisa-Marie Hughes, chair of Renfrewshire Leisure said:
“These magnificent items provide a snapshot of the rich cultural heritage refugees had to leave behind when they fled from the conflict in Syria. Like everyone who lives and works in our town, the Syrian families have become an important part of our community, and we are delighted that they are taking an active role in the redevelopment of Paisley Museum.”

Paisley Museum Reimagined is supported by Renfrewshire Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.