In February 1939, A South Australian Company incorporated the production of steel precision tubing, this was considered a milestone for Australia at the time as it gained an important industry utilising steel as its major raw material.
The scheme was thought out in 1938, and was named the British Tube Mills (BTM) (Aust.), Pty. Ltd.
The original object of the company which at the time was the only one of its kind in Australia was to manufacture steel tubing for engineering activities; these included hypodermic needles, milking machines, locomotives, steel shafts of golf clubs, vacuum-cleaner pipes to bicycles to name a few.
The building was situated on a 38-acre site four miles out of Adelaide, situated at Kilburn (S.A) and by September the main building was finished and the first installation of the plant took place. Kilburn was originally named “Little Chicago” but eventually changed to Kilburn named after a London suburb.
The Government was well aware of its production when it suggested that the company should be formed that its work could be adapted to fulfil very valuable war-time needs and began Production two months after the outbreak of war. The factory was now engaged on defence work, turning out huge quantities of tubing for aircraft, naval vessels and guns, as well as fabricated parts for all kinds of essential war equipment anti-tank gun handles, deck tubes for use in naval dockyards, exhaust pipes, and tripod legs for Bren gun carriers, parts for the Owen and Lewis guns, various parts of aeroplanes, gas cylinders for aircraft use etc. In addition it was still producing tubing for essential materials for locomotives and bicycles etc.
When the company was formed it was thought that the maximum number of men to be employed would be 300, but with peak production producing materials to help Australia’s defence, 840 people were employed at the factory.
The factory had its own physical testing laboratory, where the steel and tubes were tested, a chemical laboratory was built alongside the physical test house and here batches of steel were analysed before being processed.
The factory also had its own photographers, cameras, and dark room, so that photographs of different types of tubing, the machinery, and the progress in the work can be taken on the spot from time to time.
Bicycle manufacturers Malvern Star, Super Elliott and Bullock cycles took advantage of its steel tubing, frame-builders would benefit to have its stock supplied locally, incorporating Reynolds tubing and with joint venture with Stewarts and Llyolds ( Aust. ) Pty. Ltd. and the tube Investment Company of England who were the parent company of Reynolds.
With access to the Reynolds patents, The Kilburn site produced a number of tubing sets co-badged as BTM and Reynolds which included the 531.
Frames were finished incorporating a BTM / 531 decal on seat-tube.
This saved costs importing tube sets from overseas and a frame could be entirely now be built in Australia.
The sales manager of the cycle and motor cycle section of the company (Mr N. W. Birrell) said that BTM did not make complete cycle frames, and had made no plans to do so however experimental frames were produced for suppliers but it was the components manufacture of cycles they solely produced. During the war Malvern Star produced war time cycles to aid the army however the Four and Five star Malvern Star cycles were not produced becasue of lack of tubing.
Within the complex one entire factory section was devoted to making bicycle rims.
After the war, production resumed to common everyday materials, steel tubes of various sizes and lengths, both precision seamless and welded were produced to the tune of many million feet yearly by the 1,500 people employed producing countless materials for industrial and household needs — refrigerators, frame tubing, pram handles, golf shafts, boxes, spanners, tubular steel furniture, boiler and condenser tubes, baker’s oven tubes and steam pipes, an ever long listing.
By 1946 an extension to the Kilburn site now covered more than 400,000 square feet of floor place, an area was devoted to sales of products ranging from all goods made onsite.
BTM also sponsored cycling racing events, in 1947 the State’s best professional cyclists competed in the British Tube Mills Club’s 45-mile road race at surrounding suburb Enfield (SA).
The back-markers Included Dean Whitehorn (SA grand champion). Jack Conyers, Deane Toseland, Keith Thurgood and Phil Thomas, all South Australian titleholders.
Nine members of the SA Women’s Professional Cycling Association also raced in the 5-mile course in the same day’s event.
Mrs J. Jones who has been promoted to scratch mark started with Miss R. Donohue. Misses J. Curl and J. Wilkinson riding from limit.
In December 1948 BTM was struck with fire, the flames shot 50ft into the air and was caused through overheating of electrical elements in the two 200 gallon tanks of palm oil and paraffin used in heat-treatment processing.
Their ovals were also used for other sporting events including Soccer games and also square dancing.
Forward to today housing trust homes now replace the former site with new real estate developments making it not known it was once a thriving South Australian industry.