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The new poor law’s bastardy clauses were amongst the most contested of the 1834 Act, and their unpopularity led to their (partial) reversal by 1844. The issue of paternal financial responsibility for the maintenance of illegitimate children was central to the reforms, and this article uses the Rural and Town Queries to show how parishes could enforce this responsibility effectively. This evidence could have been used as an alternative model of reform; instead, the Poor Law Commissioners misrepresented the operation of the law and recommended the abolition of affiliation. Rooted in the writings of Malthus, their proposals proved ultimately impracticable.