Caroline Benyon and the Hornung family: A story that goes back generations

The sudden death of stained glass artist Caroline Benyon earlier this month has brought to light a family story linked to Roffey, West Grinstead Park and the Ivory’s Estate in Cowfold.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 1:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 2:02 pm

Bernard Hornung, who worked with Caroline on a stained glass window to mark the centenary of the Battle of Lys, when Portuguese and British units fought alongside each other in the First World War, reveals how their family history was linked.

Caroline, who was chairman of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, was introduced to Bernard by Fr Ulick Loring, priest at the Church of St James in Twickenham, where his relatives had once worshipped.

Bernard said: “Caroline Benyon meant everything to me. Her father, Carl Edwards, had been commissioned by my uncle Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Hornung and my father Stephen Hornung to design the memorial windows in the Parish Church of St George, West Grinstead.

West Grinstead Park in 1919, when John Peter 'Pitt' Hornung and his wife Laura were living there

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“The windows were dedicated by the Bishop of Chichester in June 1969 in memory of my great grandfather John Peter ‘Pitt’ Hornung, my great grandmother Laura de Paiva Raposo, and their eldest son Colonel Charles Bernard Raphael Hornung, after whom I am named.”

Bernard, who lives in Shaftesbury, believes Laura would have been the first Portuguese national to worship in the Church of St James, where Caroline’s windows were unveiled on April 9, 2018.

His grandfather, Colonel Hornung, served with Sussex Yeomanry, South Eatern Mounted Brigade, at Gallipoli, in Egypt and, from April 1917 to November 1918, in England and France with the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, which had its training camp opposite All Saints Church, Roffey. He was awarded the Cross of the Portuguese Order of Aviz by the Portuguese Government.

Brothers Sir John Hornung and Stephen Hornung commissioned Carl Edwards to create this memorial window to their grandparents and their father – John Peter and Laura Hornung and their eldest son, Charles Bernard Raphael Hornung. This is now the south window in the Parish Church of St George, West Grinstead.

Bernard said: “My grandfather’s letters home during that campaign were so heart wrenching that my grandmother left an instruction for them to be burnt on her death, and when my father found the letters, he complied with his mother’s wishes.”

When Bernard was chairman of the Anglo-Portuguese Society, he was invited to lunch privately by H E João de Vallera, ambassador of Portugal, in September 2014.

Bernard said: “It was an awkward lunch to say the least, with me very much on the back foot, having to search for explanations as to why, as we were heading towards the centenary anniversary of the First World War, was Portugal, our oldest and longest ally, not even mentioned in any programme of events, nor had any invitations been received by the Portuguese Embassy to attend any remembrance services, and of all the nations who had fought alongside the Allies, Portugal did not even have a dedicated First World War memorial in this country.”

Bernard decided to put this right and his efforts resulted in the memorial windows designed by Caroline to commemorate the Portuguese dead of the Great War and the humanitarian work of the last King of Portugal, Dom Manuel II, a parishioner of the Church of St James during his time in exile when he was living in Fulwell Park.

Charles Bernard Raphael Hornung when he was a major in the British Army

Bernard said: “The response to our fundraising efforts was spontaneous and we had soon raised sufficient funds for a stained glass window. The decision was then taken to add a second memorial window to commemorate the humanitarian work of Dom Manuel II during that conflict.

“How wonderful of Caroline to have included the archangel Raphael, my grandfather’s third name, in her design. This was a very special and kind thing for her to have done.

“Caroline made this project her best ever. I trust that the people of Portugal will one day value and realise that the memorial windows dedicated to their sacrifices in the First World War were designed and executed by one of our best artists, using some of the best stained glass, inherited from her father Carl Edwards. This vintage stained glass with these vibrant colours is now rare and so difficult to find.”

Through the Twickenham project, Bernard was able to share with Caroline his thoughts on the windows her father had designed for the church in West Grinstead.

Memorial windows designed by stained glass artist Caroline Benyon for Church of St James in Twickenham

Bernard’s great grandparents, John and Laura, had lived at Compton’s Lea in Roffey, then West Grinstead Park, which they bought from the Burrell family on July 8, 1913. His grandparents lived at the Ivory’s Estate in Cowfold, which is now the Camelia Botnar Foundation.

Bernard said: “We had a personal family connection with the last King of Portugal, who had formally opened the sugar refinery in Lisbon built by my great grandfather on March 12, 1909. Dom Manuel II was only 19 years old and he appeared in military uniform.”

The Hornung family lived in Twickenham from mid-1886 until the early 1890s and it was while they were there that Bernard’s great grandfather studied tropical agriculture in Kew Gardens and his great-great-uncle, Ernest William Hornung, the author who created gentleman thief Raffles, began writing professionally.

Caroline Benyon died suddenly on August 6 of a massive haemorrhage. A private funeral service will be held at the Church of St James on August 26.