Hit ITV1 period drama Downton Abbey, starring Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, will return with a new eight-part series next year.

After proving popular with audiences and critics alike, ITV has commissioned a second series of the Sunday night costume drama.

Written and created by Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey has averaged more than eight million viwers across the opening three episodes of its initial seven-part run.

Almost 9.2 million viewers tuned in for Downton Abbey’s debut on September 26, making it the most successful new drama on any channel since Whitechapel launched on ITV1 in February 2009.

The Carnival Films Production also notched up another record after 412,000 people viewed the first episode on ITV Player – the biggest single episode viewing in the catch-up service’s history.

ITV’s Director of Drama Comissioning Laura Mackie said: “We’re delighted with the audience response to Downton Abbey and the positive critical reaction. We’re extremely proud to have commissioned a series which has clearly captivated ITV1 viewers.

“Consequently, we’re thrilled to be announcing the recommission of a new series for 2011 which will allow us to spend more time with the Crawley family and their servants”.

Downton Abbey, which features an all-star cast including Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt, continues on Sunday nights at 9pm on ITV1.

See what stars of the show, Hugh Bonneville and Joanne Froggatt said about working on Downton Abbey in our exclusive videos…>