Cedars of Harrow

Let me take you back about 65 years, to the early 1950s. We’re on a council estate in the North West London suburb of Harrow Weald. A few years ago two friends had learnt chess, and now they are joined by a third boy, whom one of them had met through a shared interest in train spotting, all three sharing the same first name: David. With support from the local community centre they form a chess club on their estate which soon attracts more teenagers from the surrounding area. The club takes its name from the name of the estate: Cedars. They enter a team in the Middlesex League and rapidly gain promotion to Division 1, winning the title at the end of the decade. In 1959 the third David, a certain Dave Rumens, shares second place in the World Junior (U20) Championship.

Other clubs, notably Mushrooms in South London, spring up in imitation of Cedars. By the early 1960s chess is booming among teenage boys in London, and Islington win the London League with a team comprising mostly teenagers. It was from this environment that the first wave of the English Chess Explosion would arise: players a few years younger than the three Daves, the likes of Ray Keene, Bill Hartston and Mike Basman would achieve prominence not just nationally but internationally, and a few years later, players such as Jonathan Speelman and Michael Stean, along with Tony Miles from Birmingham, would approach world class.

As it turned out, Cedars didn’t last very long, although their imitators, Mushrooms, are still going strong today, oscillating between Divisions 1 and 2 of the London League and still with several of the same players from half a century ago. The historical importance of Cedars, though, should not be underestimated.

I was, like many others, saddened to hear that Dave Rumens, the third of the three Davids, died last month. Dave disappeared from the chess scene in the early 60s and 1965 married Carol Lumley. Two daughters, Kelsey and Rebecca, soon arrived. Carol later found fame as a poet, using her married name: Carol Rumens. The marriage didn’t last, and in the mid 70s Dave returned to his first love: chess. For nearly a decade he was a fixture on the weekend circuit: no tournament was complete without Dave’s permanent cheeky grin and trademark Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian Defence. His attractive and aggressive playing style, along with his friendly and outgoing personality, made him one of the most popular figures in British chess.

Now I can quite understand why many of you don’t visit the English Chess Forum very often, but I would urge you to read this thread right the way though, in particular the contributions of Cedars co-founder Dave Mabbs, and others who knew Dave much better than I did. Note also his ex-wife’s poetic tribute. You can also find an obituary written by Stewart Reuben on the ECF website here.

I first got to know Dave Rumens in 1976, when I was marginally involved in an international tournament run by the London Central YMCA chess club (CentYMCA is another great story, perhaps for another column) and persuaded a few of my clubmates from Richmond to take part.

Here’s a brilliant win from that event, with Dave using his favourite opening system to defeat former English international Michael Franklin.

Dave’s second chess career brought him two IM norms, but sadly not the title which his creative play deserved. He dropped out of competitive chess again in 1984, only making a brief comeback in 2001. But that was far from the end of his involvement with chess. In the 1990s he started a new chess career in junior chess coaching, and taught chess very successfully in North London right up until his final illness. Dave Rumens was a real chess original, both as a player and a personality, and will be much missed by very many people in the chess world.

Dave Mabbs continued playing on and off, making more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, most recently a couple of years ago after more than a decade away from the board. Now living in Suffolk, he still has a very respectable grade of 178. I played him three times in the Thames Valley League, losing in 1973 and drawing in both 1983 and 1984. The third Dave, David Levens, although always slightly less strong than his two namesakes, has played a lot more regularly than either, most recently in the British Over 65 Championship. He now lives in Nottingham and has a grade of 155. He is also very much involved with junior coaching and has written a book for beginners.

Let’s just return, though, to suburban London in the 1950s. Can you imagine anything like that happening today: a group of teenagers from a less than privileged background getting together to form a chess club which within a few years becomes one of the strongest in the country. (Dave Rumens’ father was a window cleaner at the time of his birth, and later found employment as a postman. Leonard Barden, a decade older and still going strong, is the son of a dustman.) Most teenagers, at least here in the UK, no longer have that sort of interest in chess. Most teenagers, I suspect, also lack the gumption to start something of that nature for themselves. Both chess and childhood are very different now from two generations ago. In some ways they’re both a lot better, but I can’t help thinking we’ve lost a lot as well.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.