Remember, remember the fifth of November.

The opening lines of this rhyme are familiar to most British people as they celebrate bonfire night. It is one of the biggest nights of the year with bonfires and fireworks remembering the gunpowder plot by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

However, a lot of British people would be genuinely surprised to hear that the night was originally all about suspicion of Catholicism and Popish plots - Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were English Catholics hoping to restore a Catholic monarch.

In Sussex, and the town of Lewes in particular, local 'bonfire societies' try to keep the old traditions of the celebration, but without any of the old sectarianism.

Mick Symes, who is a Captain of Ranks for Lewes Borough Bonfire Society, says the anti-Catholicism died out after World War II.

Mick Symes says religion is not a factor when people join bonfire societies

Mr Symes said men returning home after fighting for democracy could not see the reason for continuing with past animosities.

He says people who want to join any of the bonfire societies have to fill out a detailed questionnaire, but religion is not asked and local catholics do join in.

The tradition is strong in Lewes mainly because it was the site of the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs between 1555 and 1557.

An effigy of Pope Paul V, who was in office at the time of the gunpowder plot, is burnt every year.

Also one of the bonfire societies - in the town of Cliffe - still has ‘No Popery Here’ as its slogan.

This seems to have attracted Rev Ian Paisley who came to preach in the town in 1981 and to shake hands at the bonfire celebrations.

However he was reported to have gotten a cold reception and the following year Lewes burned an effigy of him.

In fact every year a new effigy is paraded before being put on the bonfire – in the past Donald Trump and Dominic Cummins have been featured.

Bonnie, a member of the Nevill Bonfire Society in Lewes, says the celebration is a tradition.

She has been part of the event since she was a small child and attended a preliminary procession recently with her daughters and baby granddaughter.

Three generations of the Nevill Bonfire Society: Bonnie, Chloe, Julie and Lottie

The event has attracted controversy because of the burning of the pope’s effigy, but she points out it is not the present day pope.

Those taking part wearing striped ‘smuggler jumpers’– each society has its own colours – as the old societies were made up of demobbed sailors who hung around the towns and were involved in crime.

The celebrations had become so rowdy and riotous by the mid-19th century that the authorities had to crack down and it was around that time that the modern bonfire societies were formed to introduce some order.

It was made compulsory to celebrate Bonfire Night by the Thanksgiving Act (1606) an act of parliament that was not revoked until 1859.

The law required citizens to attend a thanksgiving service on 5 November and to the remember the plot which the statute blamed on "many malignant and devilish Papists, Jesuits, and Seminary Priests, much envying and fearing, conspired most horribly.."

The opening verse of the poem ‘Remember, Remember the Fifth of November’ will be familiar to those attending bonfires this year.

Most will be unaware of the second verse, which is not widely recited any more – though it is sometimes in Lewes.

The poem was written by the poet John Milton and contains these lines;

Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!

The original meaning of Bonfire Night has changed completely in most areas in Britain and even in Lewes it is not meant to be sectarian.

Similar celebrations in Ireland may evolve the same way some day.