Frances Abington

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Fanny Abington
an elegant lady leaning on a velvet drapery on a mantel
Portrait by Joshua Reynolds
Born Frances Barton
1737 (1737)[1]
London, England
Died March 4, 1815(1815-03-04)[1]
London, England
Nationality British
Other names Nosegay Fan
Occupation Actress
Employer Haymarket Theatre, Drury Lane, Covent Garden[1]
Notable work Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal[1]
Spouse(s) James Abington

Frances "Fanny" Abington (1737 – 4 March 1815)[1] was a British actress, known not only for her acting, but her sense of fashion.[1]


She was born Frances Barton, the daughter of a private soldier, and began her career as a flower girl and a street singer. As a servant to a French milliner, she learned about costume and acquired a knowledge of French which afterwards stood her in good stead. Her early nickname, Nosegay Fan, came from her time as a flower girl.[1] Her first appearance on the stage was at Haymarket in 1755[1] as Miranda in Mrs Centlivre's play, Busybody.[2]

In 1756, on the recommendation of Samuel Foote, she became a member of the Drury Lane company, where she was overshadowed by Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive.[1] In 1759, after an unhappy marriage to her music teacher James Abington, a royal trumpeter, she is mentioned in the bills as "Mrs Abington". Her first success was in Ireland as Lady Townley (in The Provok'd Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber), and it was only after five years, on the pressing invitation of David Garrick, that she returned to Drury Lane. There she remained for eighteen years, being the first to play more than thirty important characters, notably Lady Teazle (1777).[1] [3]

In April 1772, when James Northcote saw her Miss Notable in Cibber's The Lady's Last Stake, he remarked to his brother

I never saw a part done so excellent in all my life, for in her acting she has all the simplicity of nature and not the least tincture of the theatrical.[4]

Mrs Abington as Miss Prue by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Her Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia – were no less successful than her comic characters – Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit and Miss Prue. It was as the last character in Congreve's Love for Love that Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her (illustration, left).[5] In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden.[1] After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799.[1] Her ambition, personal wit and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin. Women of fashion copied her clothing, and a headdress she wore in High Life Below Stairs was widely adopted and known as the Abington cap: "In ten days after its being performed, Abington's cap was so much the taste with the ladies of fashion and ton, that there was not a milliner's shop window, great or small, but was adorned with it, and in large letters ABINGTON appeared to attract the passer-by."[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abington, Fanny". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  2. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 5
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ Letter, 8 April 1772, in William T. Whitley, Artists and Their Friends in England 1700–1799 (1928) vol. II, p.289.
  5. ^ "Mrs Abington" by Sir Joshua Reynolds Yale Center for British Arts
  6. ^ The Life of Mrs. Abington (Formerly Miss Barton) Celebrated Comic Actress (London) 1888:24f.

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