There is evidence to suggest that there was a river crossing going back into pre-historic times. Historical documents show that from the 14th. century a ferry operated between the North and South Banks until the first Bridge was built in 1750.
This Bridge was built by Samuel Dicker MP for Plymouth, who was a local Landowner. It is believed that the Bridge was constructed for economic reasons (tolls), to displace the unreliable ferries (or is that the ferrymen?) and to ease his passage to Parliament from his residence at Mount Felix. Dicker also had plantations in Jamaica and was elected as a councillor for Jamaica. At the time of its construction it had the widest unsupported span in the country with a span of 139 feet.
The Bridge proved costly to maintain and quite quickly became uneconomical to repair. The bridge was taken down in about 1873 and the ferry returned for a period until 1788 when the second Bridge was opened.
The second Bridge depicted by M Rouviere. This Bridge was built of Brick and Stone and designed by James Pain. The Bridge features in a J M W Turner painting of the Thames.
This Bridge lasted for 73 years until the two centre arches fell into the river in August 1859. The cause of the collapse was apparently due to the settlement of the central support pier.
From a sketch by P Duggan
In 1862 a Bill was promoted in Parliament for the replacement of the Bridge. The Bridge was now in the hands of Thomas Newland Allen. Once again the ferry transported goods and passengers across the River.
The Third Bridge was opened in 1864 and was made of iron lattice girder construction on brick and stone piers. It also features a brick arch viaduct across the Engineer River and a low lying marshy area below Mount Felix where we used to play as kids.. The Viaduct still forms part of the existing Bridgeway.
Until the third bridge, the preceding Bridges had been toll bridges. But in the late 1860s to Acts had an impact on the bridge.
The London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act 1868, contained provisions to purchase private Bridges on the Thames and to remove all Tolls and the Metropolitan Board of Works (Loans) Act 1869
allowed a loan of £150,000.00 to be borrowed against the surety of future coal and wine taxes.
This lead to a dispute between Middlesex and Surrey over who would maintain the bridge on behalf of the Metropolitan Board of Works. A special assizes court gave responsibility for the Bridge to Middlesex and for the Viaduct to Surrey.
Air raid damage in 1940 led to a 7 tonne weight restriction and in 1953 a fourth bridge was constructed alongside, the third bridge was kept open for foot passage and cyclists. Virtually nothing was spent on the bridge for the next thirty years and it was demolished in 1985.
The fourth bridge was built by there Middlesex County in 1953 as a "Temporary Bridge" responsibility passed to Surrey when Middlesex was abolished as part of the Government re-organisation in 1964. It appears to have been a cheap job and following minimal maintenance, led to a weight restriction of 24.5 tonnes in 1985, in 1993 this was reduced to 17 tonnes and down to 7.5 tonnes in 1998.