Londonderry's first bridge, the Boston Bridge, saw its first passengers in 1790, but within a very few years it became apparent that this bridge was inadequate for the traffic wishing to use it. As early as 1807 plans were submitted to the Corporation for a new and wider bridge. In 1852 Sir William Cubitt a consulting engineer retained by the Trustees of the Londonderry Bridge, reported that a new bridge was, "absolutely necessary."
Following something of a Victorian tradition the Trustees offered prizes of £200 and £100 for the two best plans for a new bridge across the River Foyle. The rules of the competition stipulated that the cost was not to exceed £80,000. A total of 36 designs were submitted. Sir William Cubitt recommended that a design for a suspension bridge presented by a Peter Barlow should be adopted although it had not won the competition. That design and several others were then referred to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and they in their turn asked a Mr John Hawkshaw M.Inst. C.E. to comment on the suitability of Mr Barlow's design. He opined that the design for a girder bridge, with a central swing span, which had won the competition would be cheaper and more appropriate for navigation purposes. His views were adopted and he was subsequently appointed as Engineer for the works.
After the submission of tenders the contract for the construction was awarded to the English firm of John Butler & Co at a price of £64,500. This occurred towards the end of 1858. The new bridge was constructed of wrought iron and had eight spans. Like its successor, the Craigavon Bridge it was constructed with two decks , the lower deck being for rail traffic. The official opening of this new bridge, which was to have the name, the Carlisle Bridge occurred on 24th September 1863. It was named after George William Frederick, 7th Earl of Carlisle, Lord Lieutenant General and General Govenor of Ireland who carried out the opening ceremony. He was to die at Castle Howard the following year.
Like its predecessor, the wooden Boston Bridge, the Carlisle Bridge was a toll bridge and remained so until 1st January 1878. It would ultimately be supplanted by the Craigavon Bridge in 1936. By that date the barge traffic to Strabane had died away and the Craigavon bridge was to be the first of Londonderry's bridges not to have an opening span.