Colin Ward was born in Wanstead, Essex. He became an anarchist while in the British Army during World War II. As a subscriber to War Commentary, the war-time equivalent of Freedom, he was called in 1945 from Orkney, where he was serving, to give evidence at the London trial of the editors for publishing an article allegedly intended to seduce soldiers from their duty or allegiance. Ward robustly repudiated any seduction, but the three editors (Philip Sansom, Vernon Richards and John Hewetson) were convicted and sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
He was an editor of the British anarchist newspaper Freedom from 1947 to 1960, and the founder and editor of the monthly libertarian journal Anarchy from 1961 to 1970.
From 1952 to 1961, Ward worked as an architect. In 1971, he became the Education Officer for the Town and Country Planning Association. He published widely on education, architecture and town planning. His most influential book was The Child In The City (1978), about children's street culture.
In 2001, Colin Ward was made an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University.
Most of Ward's works deal with the issue of rural housing and the problems of overpopulation and planning regulations in Britain to which he proposes anarchistic solutions. He is a keen admirer of architect Walter Segal who set up a ‘build it yourself’ system in Lewisham meaning that land that was too small or difficult to build on conventionally was given to people who with Segal’s help would build their own homes. Ward is very keen on the idea of ‘build it yourself’ having said in response to the proposition of removing all planning laws, ‘I don't believe in just letting it rip, the rich get away with murder when that happens. But I do want the planning system to be flexible enough to give homeless people a chance’. In his book Cotters and Squatters, Ward describes the historical development of informal customs to appropriate land for housing which frequently grew up in opposition to legally constituted systems of land ownership. Ward describes folkways in many cultures which parallel the Welsh tradition of the Tŷ unnos or 'one night house' erected on common land.
Ward includes a passage from one of his anarchist forebears, Peter Kropotkin, who said of the empty and overgrown landscape of Surrey and Sussex at the end of the 19th century, ‘in every direction I see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin, a whole population has disappeared.’ Ward himself goes on to observe: ‘Precisely a century after this account was written, the fields were empty again. Fifty years of subsidies had made the owners of arable land millionaires through mechanised cultivation and, with a crisis of over-production; the European Community was rewarding them for growing no crops on part of their land. However, opportunities for the homeless poor were fewer than ever in history. The grown-up children of local families can’t get on the housing ladder’. Wards solution is that ‘there should be some place in every parish where it's possible for people to build their own homes, and they should be allowed to do it a bit at a time, starting in a simple way and improving the structure as they go along. The idea that a house should be completed in one go before you can get planning permission and a mortgage is ridiculous. Look at the houses in this village. Many of them have developed their character over centuries - a bit of medieval at the back, with Tudor and Georgian add-ons.’
Ward’s anarchist philosophy is the idea of removing authoritarian forms of social organisation and replacing them with self-managed, non-hierarchical forms of organisation. This form of federalism was put forward in part by Kropotkin and Proudhon and is based upon the principle that as Ward puts it- ‘in small face-to-face groups, the bureaucratising and hierarchical tendencies inherent in organisations have least opportunity to develop’