This article explores and extends the field of historical rural sociology using the idea of respectability via a biographical study of 20 older adults from North Wales (UK) for whom the performance of respectability represented a form of social, symbolic or cultural capital. It entailed the active negotiation and management of barriers between differing constituencies of opinion, generations and family members. Key to this situated respectability in practice was the notion that harsher systems of exclusion for transgressors were located elsewhere, rather than in the present or immediate community. The sense of the past evoked by participants highlights an historical, diachronic dimension to respectability. A particularised, carefully constructed image of the past was present in participants' evocations of respectability, providing a way of talking about identity and historical progression, as well as a means of managing potentially contentious events to preserve the dignity of the people concerned.