Larwood was born in Nuncargate, Nottinghamshire to working-class parents. As a child, a near-fatal accident prompted his father to make him a primitive bat, and the child reportedly took to cricket with great enthusiasm.
Leaving school at fourteen to become a labourer in the local mine, he also began to play for the village cricket team. By eighteen he was invited to trial for Nottinghamshire, where he was offered a professional contract and starred with bat and ball.
Larwood was by this stage a fearsome bowler, claimed by many observers to bowl at speeds well in excess of "90 miles per hour" (145 km/h). Such speeds compare quite favourably to the fastest of modern fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee. Larwood, moreover, was also very accurate. Such a combination made Larwood the most dangerous fast bowler of his time.
In 1926, he played his first Test match against Australia in the second Test of the series, at Lord's. Taking 2/99 and 1/37, he did not secure a permanent place in the team until the 1928 series, where he took seventeen wickets, including 6/32 in the first innings of the first Test.
The arrival of Donald Bradman in the Australian team saw the English cricketing hierarchy scratching their heads to devise a plan to defeat the Australian phenomenon and thus retain the Ashes trophy. Douglas Jardine, the English captain (and, like all England captains of the prewar era, a "gentleman amateur" leading a team partly made up of working-class professionals), determined that Bradman was vulnerable to short-pitched bowling, and adopted "fast leg theory". Larwood was tasked with implementing the plan, and thus the stage was set for the Bodyline Test series.
By the end of the series in 1932-33, the MCC Lords willfully celebrated the return of the Ashes back to England, but not for an instant did they realise the fury, the fatality and the dangers which it caused (simply because, while sitting in England, they could not see what damage this strategy was causing on the fast pitches of Australia). However, in 1933, Bodyline was used during the West Indies tour of England. There the MCC Lords saw with open eyes, perhaps, for the very first time that 'Fast Leg Theory' or 'Bodyline' as per the Australian Press, was not the same tactic so far very commonly prevalent in English County Cricket, but, rather, an extremely lethal, provocative and indimidating premeditated plan of attack. Concerned about the souring diplomatic relations between England & Australia as a result of this, the MCC Lords reprimanded him and asked him to sign a Letter of Apology to the Australian Crick Board & Players. He refused, on the basis that he, as a professional cricketer, was obliged to follow the directions of his captain, whose responsibility the tactics were. Larwood never played cricket for England again, returning to Nottinghamshire where he played until 1938.
Harold Larwood married Lois Bird, and had five children.
Larwood's ashes, along with his wife's, are interred at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Kingsford, New South Wales, Australia.