Simnel cakes have been known since mediaeval times, and were originally a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour with which the cakes were made.
A popular legend attributes the invention of the Simnel cake to Lambert Simnel, although this is undoubtedly false, since the Simnel cake appears in English literature prior to Lambert's escapades.
Different towns had their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake. Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury produced large numbers to their own recipes, but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and well known.