Angular momentum transport within young massive protoplanetary discs may be dominated by self-gravity at radii where the disc is too weakly ionized to allow the development of the magneto-rotational instability. We use time-dependent one-dimensional disc models, based on a local cooling time calculation of the efficiency of transport, to study the radial structure and stability (against fragmentation) of protoplanetary discs in which self-gravity is the sole transport mechanism. We find that self-gravitating discs rapidly attain a quasi-steady state in which the surface density in the inner disc is high and the strength of turbulence very low (alpha similar to 10(-3) or less inside 5 au). Temperatures high enough to form crystalline silicates may extend out to several astronomical units at early times within these discs. None of our discs spontaneously develop regions that would be unambiguously unstable to fragmentation into substellar objects, though the outer regions (beyond 20 au) of the most massive discs are close enough to the threshold that fragmentation cannot be ruled out. We discuss how the mass accretion rates through such discs may vary with disc mass and with mass of the central star, and note that a determination of the. M-M-* relation for very young systems may allow a test of the model.