Aickin (Aikin), Francis (c.1736–1812) and his younger brother James (d. 1803), actors, were born in Dublin and apprenticed to their father, a weaver, before leaving him to begin their acting careers. Francis joined Philip Lewis's company of strolling players in 1754; his first performance was the title role in ‘George Barnwell’. He subsequently played in Tralee, Belfast, and other Irish towns before appearing in Smock Alley, Dublin, in 1756. In 1758 he and his wife performed in Belfast with the Drogheda Company of Comedians. In 1765 he moved to London and first performed at Drury Lane, playing Dick in ‘The confederacy’; acclaimed by actor–manager David Garrick (1717–79), and with his qualities of inborn ease, handsome persona, and manly accent noted by Hugh Kelly (qv) in ‘Thespis’ (1766), he quickly established his reputation. He was godfather to Thomas John Dibdin (the famous songwriter and dramatist, 1771–1841) jointly with his friend Garrick, who, for disputed reasons, dismissed Francis in 1774. He was immediately engaged by Covent Garden (1774), making his last appearance there as Jacques in ‘As you like it’ in 1792. During the summer seasons he played in the provincial towns of England and Ireland. He owned a hosiery shop in Covent Garden, which attracted royal patronage and was run by his first wife; he closed it after her death in 1786. He first performed in Liverpool in 1786, managed the summer theatre in 1787, and became a joint lessee (1789) and sole proprietor (1796). He redesigned the theatre, acted, directed, and attracted famous players. However, by 1803 the reputation of the theatre had declined, his management was lax, and his lease was not renewed. He also entered into joint management of the theatre in Edinburgh (c.1800). A competent actor, he performed a remarkable variety of comic and tragic roles; in his last years he concentrated on harsh and villainous characters and became known as ‘Tyrant Aickin’. He died 8 November 1812 at Edgware, Middlesex, and was buried at Stanmore church, Edgware. He married (1758) a ‘lady of family and fortune’ (Highfill, Burnim, & Langhans, i), Margaret/Mary/Catherine Tipper (d. 1786), who sang with the Belfast opera in the Canongate Theatre, Edinburgh (1762); they had at least five children. Graves Aickin made his London debut in 1797 at the Haymarket Theatre as Moody in ‘The country girl’, his wife Margaret appearing with him. Graves died during a performance at Cheltenham, 23 February 1799. Sofia Aickin (1779–1846) was probably the actress who appeared in Drury Lane (1805–6). Francis married secondly (1788) a Mrs Lowe.
James Aickin (d. 1803) probably joined James Love's company at Tralee in 1756 and appeared in Dublin with the Smock Alley company in 1757. He became a prominent figure in the Canongate Theatre, Edinburgh, which he joined in 1759, acting such parts as Peachum in ‘The beggar's opera’ and Polydore in ‘The orphan’. His wife (name unknown) acted with him till her death in 1763. In January 1767 the theatre was badly damaged by a riotous audience, protesting against the decision of the management not to reengage the popular actor George Stayley (1727–79); James, who had signed the managers’ manifesto against Stayley and possibly feared further trouble, moved to London and was engaged at Drury Lane (1767–1800), acting mostly secondary parts – often blunt, honest men, Irishmen, and eccentrics. He was a member of the committee appointed to establish the Drury Lane Actors' Fund in 1776 and became deputy manager in 1798; during the summer seasons he played at the Haymarket Theatre. Both James and Francis were members of the Garrick Club. Several drawings and engravings were made of them in their various roles, and are reproduced in such works as the Folger Shakespeare Library and Bell's acting edition of Shakespeare's plays (1776); James's portrait hangs in the Garrick Club. He died 17 March 1803 and was buried at St Anne's, Soho, London.