COME and speak to us in sunny Redcar, said the Women’s Institute. Come in flaming June when the days are sunniest and the evenings longest.

So I went on Wednesday, and it was wet. June’s so drizzly that when I arrived on the Esplanade the blanket of mizzle had completely obscured the enormous off-shore turbines.

At least when I had finished speaking, the wetness had lifted enough to entice me out of the car to experience the romantic desolation of the empty beach. I could just see the shape of the turbines turning lazily in the colourless halflight of the dying day, and through the damp grey mist, over the grey waves, I could make out the steel grey outlines of the blast furnace at the far end of Majuba Road.

With the bright lights of the amusements at my back, it was a perfect English scene – but Redcar still has a real international feel.

The Esplanade is a French or Spanish word for an open and level space which is usually to be found in front of a fortification, and then opposite the vertical pier – a French word that probably came over with the Norman builders nearly a thousand years ago – was a French-sounding beach shop: Seas de Store, said the lettering on its fascia, although when I looked closer I realised that an i had dropped out of a very English word.

The most exotic is Majuba Road, which gets its name from the Battle of Majuba Hill of February 27, 1881 in the First Boer War in South Africa. Having just endured two crushing defeats, the British leader, Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, marched 405 men up Majuba under cover of darkness. Majuba looks a little like Pen Hill in Wensleydale. It dominates the district, and has a distinctively steep summit.

Colley's men arrived at the top at about 3am, with the Boer camp lying 600 metres below. It was a perfect position from which to bombard the Boers, only Colley hadn’t taken any artillery with him.

Instead, the well-camouflaged Boers moved slowly up Majuba, picking off the British silhouettes as they peered over the ridge to see what was going on.

Then the Boers charged. The top of Majuba Hill is saucer-shaped, so as the Boers swarmed up, the British ran down into the middle of the saucer where they were "slaughtered like sheep in a pen". Colley was shot dead in the head, and as his men fled, they were picked off by bullets flying at them from all directions.

On Majuba Hill, 93 British soldiers were killed, another 133 were wounded and 58 were captured. By contrast, five Boers were hurt and only one was killed.

For the British, it was a humiliation. Some historians reckon it signalled the end of the British Empire.

William McGonagall, the worst poet ever to have shoe-horned the English language into rhyming couplets, concluded:

But who's to blame for their fate I'm at a loss to know,

But I think 'twas by fighting too numerous a foe;

But there's one thing I know, and, in conclusion, will say,

That their fame will be handed down to posterity for many a day!

Their fame lives on in a seas de road in Redcar because when Cleveland Golf Club was established in the dunes in 1887, the episode was still fresh in the mind. An old footpath through the course led up a hill and down to the beach. Walkers found themselves being peppered by golf balls flying at them from all angles. It was so bad, said a wag, that it was like facing the snipers on Majuba Hill…