Jerrold was born in Liverpool, the son of Thomas Jerrold and Jane Copeland (who were first cousins), and one of 11 children. His family had strong theatrical connections: Both his grandfather Douglas William Jerrold and uncle William Blanchard Jerrold were notable dramatists, and his great grandfather Samuel Jerrold was an actor and theater manager.
Jerrold spent most of his life in London, starting work as a clerk in a newspaper counting-house, and going on to become deputy editor of The Observer. He edited many classic texts for the newly founded Everyman's Library, wrote biographies, travel books (for the "Beautiful England" series - published by Blackie and Son Limited), edited children's books, and produced stories for children under the name of Walter Copeland.
In 1895 he married Clara Armstrong Bridgeman; they went on to have five daughters (the first-born son died in infancy). One of his daughters, Ianthe Jerrold (1898 – 1977), went on to become a writer of fiction.