Barbara Jones was born in Croydon, Surrey. She was an only child. Her father had a saddlery and harness business at a time when Croydon was still a rural suburb. Her first sketchbooks were filled with horses and farm machinery.
Her background was a comfortable, middle class one. She attended Coloma Convent Girls' School, Croydon High School, from May 1924 to July 1930, and then Croydon Art School.
From Croydon she went on to the Department of Engraving at the Royal College of Art but felt unsuited so transferred to the Department of Mural Decoration in her second year. She was taught by the likes of Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden. She graduated in 1937.
An exceptional survival of work from this period has been restored at the University of London’s Senate House, where Jones, with four other students from the Royal College of Art, created a painted ceiling in 1936. Jones wrote about the project in her Water-Colour painting (1960). She sought commissions but realised that building up work to be free-lance would take time so took a part-time teaching post. Following the outbreak of the Second World War she accompanied the school where she was teaching on its evacuation to Luton.
In 1951 Jones co-curated (with Tom Ingram) Black Eyes and Lemonade, an exhibition of craft, folk, and popular objects at the Whitechapel Gallery. Originally, the idea for the exhibition was proposed by the Society for Education in Art (SEA) to explore the qualities of folk art in Britain and its value in art education and was to be titled "British Popular Art". However, the project that Jones planned put folk art in dialogue with consumer objects—some of which were mass-produced—to explore the "bold and fizzy" characteristics of contemporary popular art in Britain at that time. In this way, Black Eyes and Lemonade, amongst other work by Jones, made public many of the ideas that would later become important for the emergence of pop art in Britain. Objects displayed in the exhibition included horse brasses, corn dollies, canal boat artwork, ship's figureheads, and the outfits of Pearly Kings and Queens, alongside more contemporary cultural artefacts including the Idris Talking Lemon, beer mats, pest control adverts and shop posters