Construction of a bridge was first sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1726. Built by local master carpenter Thomas Phillips to a design by architect Sir Jacob Ackworth, the first bridge was opened in November 1729. A toll bridge, it featured tollbooths at either end of the timber-built structure. The bridge was badly damaged by the collision of a river barge in 1870, and although part of the bridge was subsequently replaced, soon the entire bridge would be demolished.
The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the bridge in 1879, discontinued the tolls in 1880, and set about its replacement. The current bridge was designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette as a five-span structure, built of stone and Cornish granite. It is some 700ft long and 43ft wide, and was opened by the Prince (later King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales on 29 May 1886, having cost around £240,000 to build.
Since 1845, the bridge has been the starting point of the annual University Boat Race.