In 1766 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising Earl Spencer to construct a bridge across the Thames at Battersea.
The earl, who operated a ferry here, could not raise sufficient funds to span the river with stone and as a result the bridge was build with timber. The bridge had 19 spans and was built in 1771 – 72, but was extremely unpopular because its narrow spans made navigation very difficult. River traffic often collided with the bridge and many people were drowned.
In 1795 four of the spans were made into two by inserting iron girder sections. The piers and wooden railings along the roadway had to be repaired so frequently that soon little of the original fabric remained. Between 1821 – 24 the wooden fences were replaced by 4 ft-high iron railings.
The timber bridge was the subject of a series of paintings by James Whistler.
The opening of the Victoria Bridge in 1858 brought a drop in revenue for Battersea tollbridge and when the bridge was purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works, they found it in need of replacement.
The Board’s engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, designed a new five-span bridge. After a temporary bridge was completed in 1885, work on the new bridge in 1886. The wrought-iron and steel cantilever bridge has five segmental spans. With two footpaths, the bridge has a total width of 55 ft.