The first bridge on the site was designed by John Rennie and opened in 1817. Before its opening it was known as 'Strand Bridge'. It was nationalised in 1878 and given to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who removed the toll from it. Serious problems were found in its construction and the new owners reinforced it.
By the 1920s the problems had grown increasingly bad, and London County Council decided to abolish it and replace it. The new bridge was partially opened in 1942 and completed in 1945. It was the only Thames bridge to have actually been damanged by German bombers during World War II.
The south end of the bridge is near the Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo station, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal National Theatre. The north end is near Victoria Embankment, the Strand, and Somerset House.