William Drake, Master Organ Builder (1943-2014)

William Drake
Photograph by John Brennan

“As we travel through life we occasionally meet someone who is a perfectionist; a person whose uncompromising pursuit of the highest quality in their chosen field of endeavour is paramount – fundamental even to their very existence”.

(quote from William Drake’s obituary by John Brennan in BIOS Journal 38)

William Drake was born in Baltimore on the 2nd of October 1943. His father was English, his mother American, though of Swiss-German extraction.

His Father died in 1952 at which point William and his sister Wyn moved to England. They lived in Devon with their Aunt, Helen Maud Drake.

William was educated at Mount House School and Kelly College in Tavistock. Leaving school at 18, he spent a year at Dartington College studying the organ with John Wellingham. But he was drawn to the idea of organ building as a career rather than organ playing.

After an apprenticeship with Rieger Orgelbau in Austria – with time studying at the Berufschule-für-Orgelbau in Ludwigsburg, Germany – he worked for a short time with Werner Bosch, and then for five years with Rudolf Janke in Bovenden. At the end of this period he was commissioned by John Wellingham to build a small two-manual organ. This project became his ‘proving’ organ. He continued to build this instrument in Brussels (kindly invited by Patrick Collon to use his workshop). It was then, partly finished, assessed by two German organ builders who passed the work.

He was awarded his ‘Meister Brief’ Certificate by the Chamber of Commerce in Stuttgart on the 31st of August 1974. With this Master’s qualification he could have set up as an organ builder anywhere in Europe but he chose to return to England, settling in Devon.

A workshop was established at premises in Chapel Street in Buckfastleigh in 1974 as part of the John Loosemore Centre for Organ and Early Music. This establishment combined tuition in organ playing, given by John Wellingham, with lectures in organ history, design and construction.

The Opus One, which had been the ‘proving’ organ was finished for this establishment and used as a practice and recital instrument from 1975 until 1988, when teaching at the Loosemore Centre ceased. It now resides in the Victoria Rooms, Bristol University. The Chapel building next to the workshop was acquired by William Drake in 1991 as a much needed additional space. A very successful career followed. He led his team in building and restoring many prestigious instruments. He fell ill in 2013 and sadly died on the 11th of January 2014.

The team at William Drake Limited are proud and confident to carry this legacy and tradition forward into the future.