Soon after the death of his wife Matilda in 1083, William I (the Conqueror) decided to designate his land as a Royal Forest including not only his land at Hanley lying to the east of the Hills, but also much of the surrounding area. This has nothing to do with planting trees, 'forest' being a legal term where special laws applied giving protection to game for hunting. It did not necessarily imply ownership, and much of what became the Malvern Chase was never owned by the king. However it did mean that those having rights of Common which included the right to graze certain animals and collect firewood could exercise them throughout the Chase rather than just in the manor of which they were tenants.
It was nearly 600 years before further recorded changes took place. Charles I, looking for ways to raise money had a survey made of the Malvern Chase in 1628. A charter of disafforestation was signed at Westminster in March 1632. The charter included an agreement that the king would give up all crown rights over the Chase in exchange for one third of the common land (the King's Third) which he promptly sold. Gradually (with the interruption of the Civil War) this became enclosed, apart from some 'poor' hill land. The name 'Thirds Wood" planted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee on the west side of the Hills above Jubilee Drive between the Wyche Cutting and Gardiners Common is a reminder of these events. The other two-thirds were to remain open and free for the lords, freeholders and commoners. This was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1664.
During the 200 years which followed the remaining area of open space and commonable land was increasingly eroded by enclosure and encroachment. Enclosure was carried out by major land owners such as the Hornyolds. Encroachments were far more invidious, nibbling away at the commons a little at a time. The Foley family, as lords of the manor of Malvern, was quite happy for such trespass to be made upon its land, upon 'discovery' of which the occupier would be given the option of paying an annual rent or having his property destroyed. Concern at this loss of common land led a number of local people, including Stephen Ballard and Robert Raper of CoIwall, to form the Malvern Hills Preservation Association in 1876. This was followed in 1884 by the passing of the first Malvern Hills Act and with it the formation of the Malvern Hills Conservators.