She was born Frances Barton, the daughter of a private soldier, and began her career as a flower girl and a street singer. As servant to a French milliner, she learned about costume and acquired a knowledge of French which afterwards stood her in good stead. Her first appearance on the stage was at the Haymarket in 1755 as Miranda in Mrs Centlivre's play, Busybody. In 1756, on the recommendation of Samuel Foote, she became a member of the Drury Lane company, where she was overshadowed by Mrs Pritchard and Kitty Clive . In 1759, after an unhappy marriage to her music teacher, a royal trumpeter, she is mentioned in the bills as "Mrs Abington". Her first success was in Ireland as Lady Townley, 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). 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 Love for Love that Sir Joshua Reynolds painted his best portrait of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. 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 head-dress she wore was widely adopted and known as the Abington cap.