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Harston House

History of Harston House

1891 Greene family move in


Signe Laven starts treatment of Mary Greene

This marks the arrival of Signe Laven in the UK. Her own account of her life is to be found in these documents provided by her family. Of particular interest is the account of how she came to Cambridge especially to treat the neuritis of Mary Greene. This treatment was a success. Mary Greene’s sister, Helen, had already founded a Swedish Gymnasium in Cambridge with a partner Mary Willis. In 1910 Signe bought out Helen Greene’s share of the business and became Mary Willis’s partner herself. The Swedish gymnasium building was at that time an old chapel near Addenbrookes [location unknown]. A new gymnasium was built in Union Road in 1911.

Signe Laven biography pt 1

Signe Laven biography pt 1

Signe Laven biography pt 2

Signe Laven biography pt 3

Signe Laven biography pt 3

Signe Laven biography pt 4

Signe lived at Harston House from 1909 until 1925 with Mary Greene. In 1925 she built a house ‘Sunbourn’ in Harston and made a home for two nieces from Sweden.

From 1930-33 she could not afford to live at Sunbourn so rented it out and  lived in Helen Greene’s Orchard Cottage.

Later she rented out Sunbourn again so she could live in a flat in Cambridge.


Florence Phillips, 55, sister, widow, b London

Mary Charlotte Greene, sister, 50, artist, b Essex

Helen Greene, visitor, 40, Swedish gymnast, b Grantchester

Mary Willis, boarder, 29, Swedish gymnast, b Lancs

Signe Laven, boarder, 26, Swedish gymnast, b Sweden

Marget Sjonstadt, visitor, 18, no occupation, b Sweden

Ethel Northrop, 23, cook, b Harston

Lydia Chandler, 21, parlour maid, b Cambridge

Helen Greene (1870-1960) was the youngest sister of Sir Graham Greene, K.C.B. Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty 1911-1917. Graham Greene the novelist is their nephew. She was the favourite pupil of Madame Bergman-Österberg, the Swede who introduced Swedish gymnastics into England at Hampstead in 1885. Madame Österberg founded the College of Physical Education at dartford and Helen Greene was Principal of the College from 1917-1921. She then returned to Harston Hall where she lived until the end of her life.

Mary Greene wrote a number of short plays about artists with music by Cecily Muggeridge. her play about William Blake is reproduced in full here. The Museum of Cambridge of Cambridge holds the texts of all (MoC218.89A).

An Afternoon with Blake by Mary Greene


1925 – 1937

Signe Laven’s travel history submitted as part of her application for British citizenship in 1940:

Signe Laven travel history pt 1

Signe Laven travel history pt 2

Signe Laven travel history pt 3

Signe Laven travel history pt 4

1939 Harston House

Eva Greene, b 1883, private means

Flora Kohn, b 1889, paid domestic

Margot E Kohn, b 1916, paid domestic


Mary C Greene, b 1860, private means

William G Greene, b 1857, JP and County Councillor

At the outbreak of WWII Signe Laven seems to have needed to make an application for British citizenship.

Her supporting documentation included testimonials from colleagues, the detailed biography above, and a list of all the times she had left the UK since she first arrived.

Signe Laven Weedon Butler testimonial

See Grove Lodge

Signe Laven Weedon Butler testimonial pt 2

Signe Laven Beatrix Oldfield testimonial 1940

Signe Laven Beatrix Oldfield testimonial no.2

12 Bentley Road

Signe Laven Gertrude Ellis testimonial 1940

21 Barton Road

Signe Laven G S Haynes testimonial 1940

1 Trumpington Street



Letter to Signe Laven 1942 from WVS



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