Built as a toll bridge, it was commercially unsuccessful. Six years after its opening it was taken into public ownership and the tolls were lifted. The tollbooths remained in place and are the only surviving examples of bridge tollbooths in London. Nicknamed "The Trembling Lady" because of its tendency to vibrate when large numbers of people walked over it, the bridge has signs at its entrances that warn troops to break step whilst crossing the bridge.
Incorporating a roadway only 27 feet (8.2 m) wide, and with serious structural weaknesses, the bridge was ill-equipped to cope with the advent of the motor vehicle during the 20th century. Despite many calls for its demolition or pedestrianisation, Albert Bridge has remained open to vehicles throughout its existence, other than for brief spells during repairs. It is one of only two Thames road bridges in central London never to have been replaced (the other is Tower Bridge). The strengthening work carried out by Bazalgette and the Greater London Council did not prevent further deterioration of the bridge's structure. A series of increasingly strict traffic control measures have been introduced to limit its use and thus prolong its life. As a result it is the second-least busy Thames road bridge in London; only Southwark Bridge carries less traffic.
In 1992, Albert Bridge was rewired and painted in an unusual colour scheme designed to make it more conspicuous in poor visibility, and avoid being damaged by ships. At night it is illuminated by 4,000 bulbs, making it a landmark of west London. In 2010–2011, these were replaced with LEDs.
The historic industrial town of Chelsea on the north bank of the River Thames about 3 miles (4.8 km) west of Westminster, and the rich farming village of Battersea, facing Chelsea on the south bank, were linked by the modest wooden Battersea Bridge in 1771. In 1842 the Commission of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues recommended the construction of an embankment at Chelsea to free land for development, and proposed a new bridge downstream of Battersea Bridge, and the replacement of the latter by a more modern structure. Work on the Victoria Bridge (later renamed Chelsea Bridge), a short distance downstream of Battersea Bridge, began in 1851 and was completed in 1858, with work on the Chelsea Embankment beginning in 1862. Meanwhile, the proposal to demolish Battersea Bridge was abandoned.
The wooden Battersea Bridge had become dilapidated by the mid-19th century. It had grown unpopular and was considered unsafe. The newer Victoria Bridge, meanwhile, suffered severe congestion. In 1860, Prince Albert suggested that a new tollbridge built between the two existing bridges would be profitable, and in the early 1860s, the Albert Bridge Company was formed with the aim of building this new crossing. A proposal put forward in 1863 was blocked by strong opposition from the operators of Battersea Bridge, which was less than 500 yards (460 m) from the proposed site of the new bridge and whose owners were consequently concerned over potential loss of custom. A compromise was reached, and in 1864 a new Act of Parliament was passed, authorising the new bridge on condition that it was completed within five years. The Act compelled the Albert Bridge Company to purchase Battersea Bridge once the new bridge opened, and to compensate its owners by paying them £3,000 per annum (about £271,000 in 2018) in the interim.