The final bequest of Andrew Hardman, who took an overdose shortly after his long-term partner died, is the largest gift ever to be donated to Highgate Cemetery. The celebrated burial ground, final home to Karl Marx, George Eliot and Charles Dickens's wife and daughter, subsists entirely on donations, and its custodians say they have been "profoundly touched" by his generosity.
Mr Hardman bought a double plot in the north London cemetery when Anne Hutton suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage last February. Six months later, the 48-year-old senior civil servant instructed his solicitors to give half of his estate to the burial ground on his death. Twelve weeks later, he killed himself.
Friends had been aware that Mr Hardman was taking the death of Anne, his partner of 14 years, extremely badly. Gill Perry, who refers to herself as his surrogate sister, was the first person he called when Anne died. "He came home from work to find her dead. He fell into a very deep depression as a result of her death. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy."
She said Mr Hardman, who lived in Camden, had threatened to commit suicide but had always reassured her by adding that he was not courageous enough. "We all hoped he would get through it." Friends had also known that he had bought a double plot, but had hoped and presumed it was for the "distant future". "I prayed that there was not another plan," she said. "It is very like a Shakespearean tragedy - he died for love."
Ms Perry was unaware of his decision to donate a large proportion of his pounds 1.1m estate to the cemetery - or that he was worth so much. "I think it was a very private decision."
But she was not surprised. "He was an extraordinary person. He was brilliant, witty and caring. It makes the tragedy even worse. I thought he might do something like this."
Mr Hardman, who did not have any immediate family, became very attached to the cemetery. His initial trips were very difficult, Ms Perry said, but with time, he visited the grave a lot and became very fond of the grounds. "He thought it was a beautiful place. What he liked about it was the wildlife. He liked the idea that Anne, who loved wildlife and nature, would be happier in a more natural environment."
Highgate Cemetery, which opened in 1839, contains some of the most important architecture of an English cemetery of the Victorian period. Over the last 12 years, the government has given grants totalling pounds 700,000 to help with repairs of monuments, endeavouring to halt structural deterioration without spoiling the air of gentle decay which pervades the 36 acres of tombs and luxuriant growth. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, custodians of the burial ground which has 52,000 graves, have also raised more than pounds 1m since they took over management in 1975.
Jean Pateman, chairman of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, said: "We are very grateful to Mr Hardman for his bequest. It is obviously going to be of huge benefit to the cemetery. It is an incredible gesture."Reuse content