Ward is born, likely in the English midlands, though little is known about his early years. According to Ward himself in his "Epistle Dedicatory" to Nuptial Dialogues and Debates, his ancestors were of Leicestershire, and were men of property.
Ward arrives in London by 1691, when his first known work, The Poet's Ramble after Riches, or, A nights transactions upon the road burlesqu'd; with reflections on a dissenting corporation: together with the authors lamentation, in the time of adversity in Hudibrastic verse, is published by J. Millet at the Angel in Little Britain. The work may tell something of his early adult years. Lodged in a garret in London, possessing little more than the "Poets ancient Thread-bare Blessing," the poem's speaker has an unexpected visitor come to tell him that his grandmother has died. He sets out to Pasty Nook (Pie Corner) to hire a horse, then rides to Leicester. Arriving penniless at an inn, he spends the night eating and drinking, insists on "His Worships Room, with Bed of Down," then convinces his host he will repay him when he receives his inheritance. When he arrives at his attorney's, however, he finds that his grandmother has bequeathed everything to her daughter and has "not left poor Ned a Souse."
This misogynistic work is the one of a few known to be written by Ward in the seven years after his arrival in London. It is dedicated to young apprentices in London "to serve as an Armour to defend you from the Darts thrown from Wanton and Designing Women, whose evil Communications corrupts good Manners."
With several editions by 1700, A Trip to Jamaica is Ward's first real success. The work, possibly biographical, describes how Ward sailed for Jamaica in January 1697 to seek his fortune, and returned disappointed within the year.
Modelling his title on the highly successful French work translated as The Turkish Spy (1687––94) Ward begins publishing The London Spy monthly. In total there are eighteen parts, so successful that they are republished as The London Spy Compleat in 1703. It will be reprinted five times during Ward's lifetime. The London Spy is followed by more than 100 satirical works in prose and verse.
From 1702 or earlier Ward lives in Gray's Inn.
Hudibras Redivivus is issued in twenty-four monthly parts between August 1705 and June 1707.
Charged with seditious libel for his attacks on the government in Hudibras Redivivus, Ward is taken into custody in February and again in June 1706. He had accused the Queen of being timid in failing to support the Tories in parliament.
On pleading guilty of seditious libel, Ward is fined 40 marks (£26 13s. 4d.), and is condemned to stand twice for one hour in the pillory at the Royal Exchange and at Charing Cross, and to find security for good behaviour.
Howard William Troyer identifies this as the house advertised at the end of issue number four of The Poetical Entertainer: or, Tales, Satyrs, Dialogues, and Intrigues, &c. Serious and Comical, ed. Edward Ward (1712)
At the Great Gates in Red-Bull-Yard, between
St. John's-Street and Clerkenwel-Green,
There, on that ancient venerable Ground,
Where Shakespear in Heroick Buskins trod,
Within a Good Old Fabrick, may be found
Celestial Liquors fit to charm a God.
Rich Nectar, Royal Punch, and Home-brew'd Ale,
Such as our Fathers drank in times of Yore,
When Beef, Fat Bacon, and salubrious Cale,
Were Food and Physick for the Rich and Poor.
Commodious Rooms, with Hamstead Air supply'd;
Obliging Usage for each civil Guest;
A Garden Spot, whose fertile Banks provide
Refreshing Salads to delight the Taste.
No Bacchanalian Ensigns at the Door,
To give the Publick notice, are display'd,
Yet Friends are welcome: We shall say no more
But hope their Friendship will promote a Trade.
Here "with his Wit, Humour, and good Liquor" Ward provides "his Guests a pleasurable Entertainment; especially the High-Church Party, which is compos'd of Men of his Principles, and to whom he is very much oblig'd for their constant Resort" (Jacob).
Ward describes the sign in The Delights of the Bottle, or the Compleat Vintner (1720):
Without there hangs a noble Sign,
Where Golden Grapes in Image shine;
A lovely seeming Fruit, that no
Hisperian Garden e'er could show;
To crown the Bush, a little Punch-
Gut Bacchus dangling of a Bunch,
Sits loftily enthron'd upon
What's call'd (in Miniture) a Tun.
Tho' only render'd to our Eyes,
A Runlet of a Gallon size,
But we're to think, as when we go,
At Fairs, to see a Puppit-Show,
And tho' each seems a little Creature,
By fancy, we must make 'em greater.'
Th' external Ornaments that grace
A Tavern, that delightful place,
Are Hieroglyphicks, meant (in fine)
To show, my Landlord sells good Wine,
Where ev'rey one that's low in Spirits,
May be reliev'd by Whites or Clarets,
Or other Wines that my supply
Their Wants that happen to be dry.
In Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry Pope portrays Ward as one of the frogs who "live generally in the bottom of a ditch, and make a great noise whenever they thrust their heads above water." In The Dunciad, Pope has his Dunce bid his own works adieu, claiming they are better unsold and burned than to be "shipp'd with Ward to ape and monkey lands." Pope also makes a pointed remark of "Mr. Edward Ward the Poet" in the pillory, and taunts him as an alehouse keeper.
Ward replies with Apollo's Maggot in his Cups, verse with a postscript in prose: "The same Edward Ward ... never kept a Publick-House in the City, or ever liv'd there in his Life. He acknowledges he has kept a Tavern in Moorfields, out of the City, these twelve Years, and still continues to do the same; but never sold a drop of Ale, or any other sort of Malt-Liquor since he has there resided. ... that which makes the insincerity of Pope the more provoking, is, his reporting things contrary to his own Knowledge and Conscience, for Pope has drank Wine at Ward's House, and knows it to be a Tavern; yet to show his profound Judgment in the Art of Mendaciloquence, he could not forbear translating it into an Ale-house; insinuating thereby, that Ward is possess'd of no other Qualifications than what are directly sutable to so humble a Station."
Sometime between August 29, 1729, and October 1720, Ward establishes the British Coffee House.
Ward dies at Fullwoods Rents.
Ward is buried in St. Pancras Churchyard, Middlesex, on 27 June. As he had directed in his will, written in verse 24 June 1725, one mourning coach for his wife and daughter attends his hearse.