The building was constructed in 1766 by refugee French Huguenots as a community church, named L'Eglise de l'Artillerie (the Artillery Church), on a small street called Parliament Court, Artillery Street, in Bishopsgate. The church took its name from the street, which in turn took its name from the fact that in the time of Henry VIII, the artillery practiced there. With changing demographics, the church passed into the hands of the Universalist Baptists, the Unitarian Baptists, the Scottish Baptists, and the Salem Chapel. In the mid-19th century, it was purchased by a Jewish society, the Hevrat Menahem Avalim Hesed v'Emeth (Heb: The Comforters of Mourners Kindness and Truth Society). The society had been founded by immigrants in 1853 as a mutual aid and burial insurance society, but evolved into a synagogue. The members were workingmen of Dutch Ashkenazi background, employed as cigar makers, diamond cutters and fruit traders. They acquired the building in 1867.
The building renovation was opposed by London's established synagogues, whose officials believed that new immigrants ought to join one of the established congregations. The poor, immigrant Jews of London's East End, however, felt so strongly about having a synagogue of their own that, rather than sitting in the free or cheap seats reserved for the poor in the established synagogues, they raised money to purchase and renovate the building at the rate of a penny per family per week. The Chief Rabbi of London, Nathan Marcus Adler, refused to preside over the dedication ceremonies. The total cost of the renovation came to £1,000. The building contractor held a mortgage for most of the cost, which the congregation paid off at the rate of £70 per year.