Country houses for sale

An almost-magical ‘disappearing’ snooker table at the Art Deco home where Walt Disney once came to visit

Woodbourne Manor was built in the 1920s by Joseph Cohen, an entrepreneur, solicitor and property developer whose chain of cinemas in the Birmingham area ended up winning him a very famous friend.

Having a full size snooker table is something of a dream for all those with even a passing liking for the game. What could be more pleasant than retreating, at a certain point in the evening, to a billiard room, there to enjoy perhaps a single malt and and some pleasant background music while chatting to friends amid the clink of balls as they run across the baize?

The problem is that a full 12’x6′ table takes up an inordinate amount of room, space which except in the largest of houses is difficult to put aside solely for this purpose. That was the quandary faced by Joseph Cohen as he designed a house for his family to live, to be built on a plot in Harborne, just outside Birmingham, in the 1920s. That house — Woodbourne Manor — is presently for sale via Knight Frank at £2.5m.

Instead of shrugging and going without, Cohen came up with a brilliant plan: he installed his table on a platform that can be raised or lowered into the cellar below, a system which, while not unique, is vanishingly rare. Once the table has been wound slowly into the basement, a sprung floor can be moved across that’s an ideal dance floor. For this is a billiard room and ballroom all in one; absolutely ingenious.

The rest of the house is may not have quite the theatricality of that showpiece space, but it’s a beautiful and flamboyant place nonetheless. The grand entrance leads into a huge hallway with the sort of sweeping staircase you’d expect to find Fred Astaire dancing up and down in a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood — a link that’s not as far-fetched as it might initially sound.

According to his grandson’s family history site, Joe Cohen first went into film in 1915, eventually getting involved in everything from distribution to cinemas, and building a chain that stretched from Scotland to the South Coast, including London’s West End. The cinemas were early to recognise and show Walt Disney’s films, so much so that the man himself apparently became friendly with Cohen — even visiting him at home.

The house’s Art Deco touches and other period features in several rooms nod towards the classic cinema architecture which used to be so common before giant, out-of-town multiplexes became the norm in most of Britain. Would that latter change make Joe sad? Maybe, but then again the legroom is far better and the seats far comfier than they ever used to be — and looking at how Joe’s almost-century-old house has moved with design trends while retaining the best of the old, we can’t help but think that he’d approve.

Woodbourne Manor is for sale via Knight Frank at £2.5m — see more details and pictures.


Harborne: What you need to know

Location: Three miles south-west of Birmingham, not far from the university, with easy access to the A456 and M5.

Atmosphere: One of the most affluent of Birmingham’s suburbs, Harborne is a mix of suburban amenities and green space that’s much loved by its residents — and it has repeatedly been named the best place to live in England’s second city. It might not be as pretty or leafy as nearby Edgbaston, but has plenty of character and some great places to eat and drink.

Things to do: There are two golf courses nearby, the Botanic Gardens are just a mile or so away, Winterbourne House and Garden (owned by the university) is also near, and Woodgate Valley Country Park is a few minutes’ drive.

Schools: It’s the news that every parent wants to hear: Harborne Primary School is rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, and will be practically on your doorstep. Birmingham also has a dozen outstanding-rated secondary schools, including the nationally-renowned St Paul’s and King Edward VI schools.


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